Negotiation Lessons From The Field

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The Waco Branch Davidian siege is one of the most well-known hostage negotiations of all time. Former FBI hostage and crisis negotiator, Gary Noesner, was on the negotiation team at Waco during the siege. He remembers it as one of the worst negotiation situations he has ever been in, the failure of which he doesn’t attribute solely to David Koresh.

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So, at Waco, we had excellent resources, every asset and resource of the FBI available to us, quite significant. Yet, some bad decision making, a failure to have adequately trained our decision-makers on how the process works, led to a lot of problems that were eventually impossible to overcome,” says Gary.

Negotiating is a skill

There are strategies, techniques, and processes that are learned through training and experience to ensure we fulfill goals and achieve specific outcomes. Like in law enforcement, in business, it is essential to ensure trained negotiators are performing the negotiations. And also, like in law enforcement, those with higher rankings can step in where they aren’t needed.

Later in his career, Gary participated in a similar negotiation situation in Montana that was actually on a much larger scale and lasted 86 days compared to Waco’s 52 days. This siege is less known because there were no casualties, and there was a successful outcome.

In this situation, the negotiation team was allowed to take control and devise a strategy that was followed. It ended in a peaceful surrender, and no-one was hurt.

“Patience, perseverance, creativity, a calm demeanor, and a methodical approach are the tools of the trade that we were able to fully exercise in Montana versus Waco, and the outcome showed it,” says Gary.

In significant negotiation situations like those Gary experienced in Waco and Montana, teams are working together to achieve their goals. The importance of those teams working together and being on the same page cannot be understated.

In smaller-scale negotiation situations that are happening on a day-to-day basis in every business around the world, the importance of the team is the same. There are no heroes. There are no superstars. There may be drivers and “hammers,” but if they aren’t on the same page as the team, they will not achieve the outcome they are looking for.

To hear Gary’s stories about the sieges at Waco and in Montana,  listen to episode #118 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast.