You’re in a situation that’s looking like it’s quickly turning into a crisis. Someone might harm themselves or someone else. What do you do? What does it take to control and resolve the crisis? Scott Tillema, speaker, police officer, and trained negotiator, shares his insights on the four pillars of how to bond with someone, why words matter, and long overdue conversations about mental health.
Why Police Negotiators are Collaborative
We’ve all seen movies or TV shows showing hostage negotiators working to facilitate the safe release of hostages. Police negotiators are different in that they resolve crisis situations working with individuals who might be suicidal or is threatening harm to themselves or someone else. Gone are the days when the police can come in and flex their authority and say, “You’re going to do this because we’re the police and we say so”. Coming into a crisis situation with a collaborative mindset means we have to come to the situation with an open mind and a blank slate to start from. Both parties have to work together to reach the end goal and that means clearing your mind of biases or preconceptions. Everyone thinks they’re not biased. Of course we are – you can’t be human without being biased. The goal in any negotiation is understanding your biases and preconceptions and learn how to come to a negotiation and not let them influence the situation.
Four Pillars of Building Bonds
To negotiate with someone in a crisis situation you first have to build a bond with them. How? Here are the four principles that work together to build a bond with people.
- Understanding. Our ability to listen versus talking. There’s always new information to uncover and new information constantly being revealed. We have to understand the problem first before we can start trying to resolve the crisis.
- Timing. Know when to deliver your message. When someone’s in crisis they’re very emotional and we have to work through that emotion to a place where they’re even willing to listen to us.
- Delivery. The old adage it’s not what you say it’s how you say it – so true! So many of us focus on preparing the content and stress over what we’re going to say, we forget to think about how we’re going to say it.
- Respect. We all understand how important respect is, but how do we teach it? Respect is about understanding emotion. When we have a better understanding of what triggers our own emotions we can start to think about what this person in crisis is going through, what needs to be attended to, can we give them the bond or support that they need?
Hurtful words can stick with us for a lifetime. Encouraging words – at just the right time – can also stick with us for a lifetime. We already focus on what words we’re going to use, so Scott encourages us to dig deeper on the delivery of our words. Again, it comes back to understanding, timing, delivery and respect – a circle that goes around and around. Words build relationships and relationships deliver the two most important things you need in negotiations – information and options.
We all know someone who is suicidal or has suicidal thoughts – even if we don’t know it. Take a minute and realize that today (at some point), you’re going to interact with someone who might be or is thinking about suicide. Even in policing the numbers are pretty clear – more officers kill themselves than are killed in the line of duty every year. First, have this conversation and be direct about it. Are you thinking of killing yourself? Have you considered suicide? Then follow up with understanding, that you’re listening, appreciate how they feel, and that you’ll always be there for them. There is help and many resources to teach us how to help someone in crisis. Remember, don’t ever hesitate to call 9-1-1 so a well-trained, compassionate police officer can help people through a crisis. We’re all in this together.
Scott Tillema is a police officer with a passion for learning and sharing the principles of crisis and hostage negotiations. He has received hostage negotiation training from the FBI and is trained in business negotiation through the Harvard University Program on Negotiation. A prolific speaker his TedX talk – The Secrets of Hostage Negotiators is a must see for negotiators.
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