Stark Differences Between Business and Hostage Negotations

A fellow startup entrepreneur recently told me that he went to a talk by an ex-cop who was a hostage negotiator. The negotiator was trying to educate business professionals on how to better negotiate business deals using the same psychological tactics he employed successfully among kidnappers. After hearing him sharing the experience at the seminar, I do agree that there are similarities between a business negotiation and the hostage version. Former FBI negotiator, Chris Voss is the known expert in this crossfield with his company The Blackswan Group. But there are also stark differences between the two that might catch an average entrepreneur off-guard. Here are the caveats.


You’re Trying to Reduce Time While a Hostage Negotiator is Trying to Buy Time

As they all say in business, “time is money” where time is inversely proportional to the amount of money (less time means less money wasted). So, every businessman should try to reduce the amount of time to negotiate a deal. On the contrary, in a hostage situation, they are trying to buy time. We’ve seen this all the time in Hollywood movies such as The Negotiator, starred Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey.


You Have Less Information About the Counterparty Than a Hostage Negotiator

Unless you’re trying to close a substantial contract with a public company, even so, you should have less data of them than a hostage negotiator about the perpetrator. A public institution like the police force should have more than enough information about the kidnapper – their public data, family background, work history, health records and more. Less info means less power to negotiate. And chances are you’d be negotiating mostly with private companies where data is hard to come by.


You Have Less Interaction Time Than a Hostage Negotiator

It’s not like you’re surrounding the company’s office or the executive’s home and speaking to them with a loudspeaker or with a secured mobile line 24/7. You perhaps only have 2 hours or so in a few meetings in their office or yours when attempting to negotiate in your favor. Thus, the amount of data exchange can be limited and with that, you have limited opportunity to maneuver. Again, I’m imagining myself being in a hostage situation where police officers and the SWAT team have taken siege of the kidnapper’s compound and constantly negotiate their way into making them surrender. This gives them ample time to interact with the hijacker and to learn more about them and to eventually control the situation.


You Could Walk Away From The Deal But Not a Hostage Negotiator

One crude but effective negotiation technique is to walk away from a bad deal. I did that before and it worked wonderfully. I dubbed it the “push and pull” technique. But no law enforcer is going to tell you that they’re going to give up and walk away from the crisis. Their very job is to save lives and to diffuse the situation so that the kidnapper would surrender. In business, you can’t expect every deal to fall through  – you win some, you lose some. In fact, you should not be desperate when stepping into the negotiation table. However, failure is truly NOT an option for the police because lives are at stake.


Difference between business and hostage negotiations


In the next installment, I’ll offer tried and proven negotiation techniques that you could practice in your business or startup to gain the upper hand in business contracts. 




Melvin Wong

Melvin Wong is the Founder of Kodorra. He's an award-winning entrepreneur with global business experience in 17 countries covering U.S, Europe, Asia and South America. Melvin sold his online sports games company to an American/Japanese company in Los Angeles.

Having been a speaker, mentor and judge at numerous entrepreneurship events and competitions, Melvin embodies the “pay it forward” principle where he finds time to educate and assist upcoming entrepreneurs and professionals to be all they can be.