Training and Hostage Negotiations - Similar?

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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’.

About Rod Webb

Rod Webb

Rod is co-founder and Commercial Director at Glasstap® (, the company behind  Trainers' Library® ( and Managers' Library (

Rod has overall responsibility for the Glasstap brand and the day to day operations of the business.

Through its innovative Trainers' Library® service, Glasstap® provides trainers with easy access to its unique range of innovative, experiential learning materials, including detailed trainer's notes, handouts, participant briefs etc. The service is used by professional trainers in over 50 countries.

The recently launched Managers' LIbrary aims to help line managers become better at fulfilling their part in the leraning and development cycle providing loads of short training activities that can be used in team meetings and lots of self-development tools for the managers themselves.

Rod is the author of an extensive catalogue of experiental training materials, available through Trainers' Library®, which includes teambuilding games like Murder at Glasstap Grange and Jack Fruggle's Treasure. He now works with a team of authors who continue to develop new material for Trainers' Library and Managers' Library.

In his spare time, Rod enjoys creative writing, reading, walking, cycling and spending time with his horses and dogs. He's currently creating a new board game.


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