If You Have to Negotiate


Hopefully most of us have never been in a hostage situation, even though we’ve likely seen them on the news.

But we’ve all likely been stuck in a conflict that seems to have no ready resolution. Each party wants to hold their ground. Neither party wants to compromise.

Perhaps our political climate makes Stalling for Time even more relevant now than when it was published ten years ago.


The author Gary Noesner was once the head of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit.

But he is also an excellent storyteller. In his book he recounts stories about his years negotiating through some of the crises we watched unfold on TV (remember David Koresh and Waco in 1993?) and many that didn’t make the news, thankfully.

But while his stories are engaging (I never wanted to stop reading), his philosophy underneath the stories is even more important. And one that we all could follow.

“Whenever possible we should follow Martin Luther King Jr.’s advice to ‘pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.’ Force should always be viewed as the least desirable and last option.”

If we have to negotiate, and we all will from time to time, the values of listening, showing respect, and wanting the best possible outcomes for everybody are qualities we all need to practice.

Excerpts from Stalling for Time

Here are a few favorite passages.

“Fred taught us that the key to successful negotiation was to discern the subject’s motivation, goals, and emotional needs and to make use of that knowledge strategically. Once we understood the hostage taker’s real purpose, we had a better chance of convincing him that killing the hostages would not serve that purpose and would only make an already bad situation worse.”

~ * ~ * ~

“Few case studies so succinctly illustrate the value of the negotiation process: Contain. Open communications to deescalate tension. Stall for time. Lower expectations. Make him bargain for everything.”

~ * ~ * ~

“If I’ve gained any wisdom in my FBI career, it has come from recognizing the degree to which everyday life can mirror the dynamics of the destructive standoffs I faced in my FBI job. Each of us is called upon to negotiate stressful situations in business, social encounters, and family life time and again. From what I’ve observed, the happiest and most successful people tend to be those who are able to remain calm at these difficult times and put aside emotions such as pride or anger that stop them from finding common ground.

~ * ~ * ~

“We all need to be good listeners and learn to demonstrate our empathy and understanding of the problems, needs, and issues of others. Only then can we hope to influence their behavior in a positive way.”

~ * ~ * ~

You might even say that all of life is a negotiation.”

* * *

Have you ever been involved in a difficult negotiation? Please share in the comments.

7 thoughts on “If You Have to Negotiate

  1. Dianna McBride

    This sounds like a book I could truly benefit from, Lisa. My favorite quote was the first one you used concerning this man’s underlying philosophy. That should always be the goal and I’m sad to say that I don’t always set that as my priority.

    Thank you so much for the review!

  2. floyd

    Sounds interesting. In business it is negotiations every single day and usually way more than one or two things.

    Just as everyone is a salesperson, so too are we negotiators. Like it or not.

    Thanks for the heads up, Lisa!

  3. TC AVEY

    This sounds like a really great book. I think it could even help people learn how to witness to someone who might be hostile to the Word of God…discovering why they feel that way, listening to their heart, andunderstanding their needs as we remain calm and nonjudgmental (not arguing or prideful ).
    Thanks for sharing.
    I’m adding thus book to my reading list.

  4. Barbara H.

    Wow, this sounds like an excellent book, both the stories and the underlying philosophies. The only negotiations I’ve handled were with fighting children. 🙂 Sometimes there was no clear principles as to who should have the toy now (like the other person had had it for a while), and it was a matter of who was going to give in and share and let the other go first.

    The only book I’ve ever read dealing with hostage negotiations was The Negotiator by Dee Henderson – the first book I ever read of hers, and it got me hooked!

  5. Jean Wise

    I would have never imagine such wisdom from this type of book. Great find, Lisa. I served as the local health commissioner for 16 years and often said negotiation was a skill I have to learn quickly in that role and one that surprised me on how valuable it was for me to have it.

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