Welcome to the first Freelance Job in the Spotlight where we profile out-of-the-ordinary freelance jobs from around the world. For the inaugural launch of the new section, we turn to the high-stakes world of hostage negotiation.
Who better to gather insights about the fine art of negotiation than Bill Richardson, the former UN ambassador and US governor? Richardson sat face-to-face with arguably some of the world’s most nefarious characters and dictators to negotiate the release of hostages. We look at his career highlights and reveal tips to become a strong negotiator.
Bill Richardson passed away on 1 September 2023 at the age of 75.
Bill Richardson: The Master Hostage Negotiator
One of Bill Richardson’s first experiences with hostage negotiation came in 1995 when he was governor of New Mexico. Two employees of a US defence contractor were kidnapped in Iraq. Richardson travelled to Baghdad and met with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who agreed to release the hostages.
Over the next two decades, Richardson would go on to negotiate the release of hostages from a variety of countries, including North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Sudan. He was also instrumental in securing the release of American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who were held captive in Iran for 26 months.
What makes a good hostage negotiator?
Richardson’s success as a hostage negotiator was due to a number of factors. He was a skilled diplomat with a deep understanding of international relations. He was also a master of personal persuasion, able to build rapport with even the most hardened hostage-takers. And he faced many risks, often travelling to dangerous countries to meet with the hostage-takers face-to-face.
Richardson’s work as a hostage negotiator was not without its critics, according to news reports. Some argued that he was too willing to make concessions to the hostage-takers and that he sometimes put the lives of the hostages at risk. But Richardson always maintained that his goal was to secure the safe release of the hostages and that he was willing to do whatever it took to achieve that goal.
While negotiating with warlords is not within your job spec, embracing useful negotiation skills can transcend relationships in your work and personal lives. Here are a few that you can consider:
- Do your homework. Before you start negotiating, it’s important to know as much as you can about the other party, their interests, and their strengths and weaknesses. This will help you to develop a strong negotiating strategy.
- Understand that values are very personal. What you consider valuable may not be the same as the person you are negotiating with. Ask what they hold valuable, and why it is important to them. This could create a middle ground.
- Be prepared to walk away. One of the most important things to remember in any negotiation is that you’re always prepared to walk away. This shows the other party that you’re serious and that you’re not afraid to walk away from a deal that’s not in your best interests.
- Be creative. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to problems. This can help you to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
- Build rapport. It’s important to build rapport with the other party in order to create a more positive and productive negotiating environment. This can be done by being friendly, respectful, and understanding. Some negotiators even use humour to diffuse a tense situation and create a bond between both parties.
- Listen actively. One of the best ways to build rapport and understand the other party’s interests is to listen actively. This means paying attention to what they’re saying, asking clarifying questions, and summarizing their points back to them.
- Be flexible. It’s important to be flexible in negotiations. This doesn’t mean that you should give up on your goals, but it does mean that you should be willing to compromise to reach an agreement.
- Be patient. Negotiations can take time. It’s important to be patient and persistent in order to reach a successful outcome.
- Get comfortable with long pauses. Long silences can be used to intimidate the other party, so be aware of when this is being used on you. Do not feel compelled to fill the silence. However, also make it known that you do not want to be wasting time either.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks. Sometimes, the best way to get what you want is to take a risk. This could mean making a bold offer, or it could mean walking away from a negotiation.
- Be prepared to lose. No matter how well you negotiate, there’s always a chance that you could lose. This is okay. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and to keep trying.
- Enjoy the process. Negotiations can be stressful, but they can also be a lot of fun. If you enjoy the process, you’ll be more likely to be successful.
🎧You can listen to a previously recorded podcast of Bill Richardson here: Global Dispatches — World News That Matters (chtbl.com) which has recently had the paywall lifted.
📖 Interested in learning how to become a master negotiator? Richardson published this book, How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Strategies and Stories from a Master Negotiator, which is available on Amazon, Abe Books and other publishers.