Having the privilege of being an FBI Hostage Negotiator was truly a blessing.  It afforded me the opportunity to serve our country, travel the world and do things that now play as great stories for dinner parties.  It also put me in a place where I could set up the next stage of my life, starting the Black Swan Group in 2008.  Our mission is centered around using hostage negotiation tactics, communication engagement predicated on emotional intelligence, to navigate business negotiation obstacles.  

In addition, I had the good fortune of putting out a book last year that was rated as one of the top business books by Inc.com.  “Never Split the Difference” gives a solid overview of the negotiation techniques my company teaches.

Use IDS To Solve All Your Issues, No Matter How Big Or Small

When O4G approached us and wanted to see the comparisons between what they are doing in the EOS® community and negotiation strategies, we jumped at the opportunity.  Here we will do a quick examination of how “The Issue Solving Track™”, (IDS) Identify, Discuss and Solve, can help give an agenda for a communication sequence in both business and hostage negotiation.

Of course, you know that when you go into a negotiation it is always best to have a plan.  That’s something that goes unsaid.  It’s an unwritten rule of any business or hostage negotiation. What’s just as important is the context of that plan. 

The IDS Process gives us a great map with an easily digestible and implementable outline. Also, IDS helps you to prioritize the issues.  For example: In business, you are wasting your breath if you are describing the way a potential client could save money by using your product or service when their main concerns are customer satisfaction, retention, and acquisition.

Step 1: Identify the Real Issue

Identify issues that need to be discovered. Counter-intuitively, the presenting issue is not where you need to focus.  The real issue is more than what you can see on the surface.  

In a hostage situation if someone wants a car it means they want to live. If a terrorist demands money for a kidnap victim, they don’t want to hurt the person in their possession. If they make videos for CNN, they want fame and notoriety.

In business negotiations, The Black Swan Group says there are 3-5 pieces of information in every interaction that if discovered would completely change the outcome.  We call these “black swans” – things that once discovered will change everything.

Buy a Copy of Never Split the Difference: Negotiating Like Your Life Depended On It

A former international hostage negotiator for the FBI offers a new, field-tested approach to high-stakes negotiations—whether in the boardroom or at home.

This is why you need to engage in issue identification early. Know you shouldn’t move forward until you have pinpointed the underlying dynamic. There are always clues rooted in the underlying emotion that affect decisions.

These “passions” truly drive decision making. If those underlying emotions go unaddressed, it can be an infection that inhibits the ability to collaborate at the negotiation table.  It’s like trying to proceed without obtaining all the elements of an equation.

How can you make a decision if you don’t acquire all the elements that factor into the equation?

Step 2: Discuss All The Potential Solutions

Second in our sequence for IDS is Discuss.  The trick is creating an environment where the other side trusts you enough to share closely held information. Executing this is something Stephen Covey described as “seeking to understand before being understood.”  

A 3-stage process based on identifying an order for discussion is an approach that’s safe and sets you up for profitability.

Information not only needs to be discovered but needs to be shared.  In negotiation, whether business or hostage, comes a time when you have to state objectives and expectations. Many times when we have “skin in the game,” there are things we hold back due to fear of the consequence of the other side being in possession of that knowledge, whether it is related to leverage, reputation, company standard, etc.

Remember no matter what happens no one can ever make you say yes. It often helps when you turn your counterpart into a problem solver. Part of getting their buy-in is knowledge of the challenge. Whether you are identifying and discussing the reunion of a hostage with their family, navigating the terms of a multi-million dollar business contract, or trying to get your kids in bed, the implementation defines whether or not you get the desired result.

The final step of IDS is solely dedicated to this notion of success.  

Step 3: Solve the Issue For the Long-Term Greater Good

Solve. Make sure you have stated steps of execution that will solve the issues. A “To-Do” List is a version of that. It could be a summary email after an important negotiation, a contract for the acquisition of another company or writing the script for a hostage’s mother to do a media appeal, you need a sense of direction, and an agreed-upon desired result.

One thing in our final step of the IDS process we need to make sure we don’t ignore is: you may need to take a step back in order to move ahead. When we are negotiating, building trust and rapport throughout, information comes out more like toothpaste than an open floodgate. Being aware of that dynamic tells us when we get to implementation steps we may find more information we need to take into account.

In the book “Never Split the Difference” we say that “yes is nothing without how.”  Make sure when you get to the Solve step that the decision-making blueprint leaves room for evolution, a strategy for triumph in an ever-changing world. In hostage negotiation, the decision to communicate with a kidnapper is what helped us find ways to guarantee proper treatment of a hostage and achieve a peaceful surrender.

We created dynamics where the “negotiator” for the terrorist organization was walking several miles every day back from town to their camp in the jungle to have meetings. We broke them out of their practice of staying in town until the deal was cut and influenced their behind the scenes interactions. 

IDS concepts were a large part of how we approached problem-solving, compartmentalizing issues and knowing there are many issues to attack. Everyone needs a system for discovery and executing not based on justifications, but navigating opportunity. When a terrorist demanded $10 Million in war damages for the life of his hostage, the team I was a part of reduced that demand to zero because we were able to vocalize an understanding of an issue and decide on a solution.

Identify, Discuss, and Solve creates a sequencing for events that can be applied to communication. The tactics my company, The Black Swan Group, teaches for business negotiation consultation lines up with this.

If you are applying hostage negotiation concepts to business solutions or solving issues during your weekly meetings, IDS is a great framework for moving ahead.