Tag Archives: Eric Barker Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Hostage Negotiation –What can supply management learn from the FBI?


I read an interesting article from one of SourcingChick’s favorite blogs (Eric Barker’s Barking up the Wrong Tree) on how hostage negotiation gets people to change their minds. The more I thought about it, the more it applied to what sourcing people do every day. The article points out six key elements to success.

Ask open-ended questions

This is something that I have done and witnessed for years. Anyone who has participated in the negotiation classes I have taught knows it’s a key technique I encourage everyone to get better at. In reality, we usually don’t want the other party to answer a question with a yes or no. In negotiation the skilled negotiator is effective at open-ended questions striving for understanding the key issues and interests of the other party. By understanding the issues and interests, you can structure a deal that marries the interests of both parties. Think of the Colombo character in the old TV series, “Just one more question.”

Silence and Effective Pauses

Rarely does anyone like silence and pauses, but for the skilled negotiator these are some of the best tools in our toolbox. These techniques encourage the other party to continue dialogue. A pause can be used when emphasizing a point. In the hostage article, silence and pauses are used to diffuse when the other party is highly emotional. This works because it is difficult to sustain a one-sided argument.

Minimal Encouragers

These are brief statements to acknowledge to someone that you are listening and paying attention. It is words like yes, OK and I see. Active listening in negotiation is the core skill of any negotiator whether the negotiation is tactical or strategic. It is not just hearing or thinking of your next statement. It is hearing, listening and giving feedback.


This technique is one that again shows your empathy and listening skills by repeating some of the dialogue that you have just heard.


This technique is where we demonstrate that we heard and understand what our negotiation partner said. This is best done by repeating what the person said in your own words. I think it is a great way to insure that you are onboard with what has been said and clarify any misunderstandings or miscommunications.

Emotional Labeling

The FBI suggests that you give their feelings a name. This shows you identify with how the other party feels. Statements like “you seem pretty hurt about being left behind” or “it just doesn’t seem fair” are examples of emotional labeling.

Overall these are clearly skills that will aid in any negotiation. The core skills from the FBI are active listening, empathy, building a rapport, using influence skills, and creating behavioral change. I think this is a good process for procurement managers who are involved in a tough negotiation. While I have taught these skills, it always good to keep them up-front in your challenging negotiation.

We can learn a lot from behavioral negotiation!