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Rod Webb

Glasstap Limited

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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Training and Hostage Negotiations – Similar?


Recently, I had the opportunity to hear from some great speakers at Connect, London. One of these was Simon Horton, author of ‘The Leaders Guide to Negotiation’. 

Simon knows a thing or two about negotiation. He has trained hostage negotiators and he gave us a brief insight into the essential steps followed in those critical situations, which can be summarised as: 

  1. Listen to the words, behind the words and between the words to understand the other party’s concerns, values and viewpoint.
  2. Build empathy, rapport and a sense of ‘we’re in this together’.
  3. Influence.

As Simon explained, it’s vital that the first two have been completed before the third step can be countenanced – any attempt to influence the hostage takers before the first two steps are complete is likely to fail. (Oh, and these skilled negotiations have been proven to be hugely more successful at saving hostages’ lives than the alternative – going in guns blazing.)

This got me thinking about training. Often, particularly with the pressure to get a ‘quick result’, trainers launch straight in at step three, telling people the behaviours they need to adopt and what they need to do. This type of training tends to be dominated by PowerPoint and by the trainer talking.

But, if we accept that training involves influencing learners to adopt different behaviours, then don’t the same principles apply as in other negotiations? Wouldn’t our chances of a successful outcome be enhanced by spending more time listening to our learners, building empathy and working with learners to find a way forward that works for them, as well as us?

Of course, listening to the learners and empathising with their feelings, needs and concerns starts right at the beginning of the training, with effective icebreakers.

But actually, it’s a process that should continue throughout the learning. Our Trainers’ Library activities are always designed with the intention of providing opportunities for learners to discuss and explore their current behaviours, examine their effectiveness and together with the trainer identify better solutions they can apply in the future. This, we think, helps trainers achieve better ‘buy-in’ to the learning outcomes.

In short, I think Simon’s three-stage approach to negotiations provides a useful framework that reminds us how to ‘facilitate learning’ rather than ‘deliver training’.

Author Profile Picture
Rod Webb

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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