Negotiation Position Papers: A Tool for Crisis Negotiators

By Dalfonzo, Vincent A.; Romano, Stephen J. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Negotiation Position Papers: A Tool for Crisis Negotiators


Dalfonzo, Vincent A., Romano, Stephen J., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Crisis negotiators take great pride in their communication skills. Their specialty is to influence and persuade, primarily through the use of active listening skills (1) and other communication techniques and strategies. Ironically, however, it is not unusual for even the most well-trained crisis negotiators to have difficulty effectively communicating the rationale for their assessments and strategy recommendations to the on-scene commander. To this end, negotiation position papers (NPPs) help negotiators express their positions clearly and concisely during an incident.

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The FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit routinely uses NPPs and values them as important tools, especially during hostage or barricade incidents. Similarly, the use of well-formatted NPPs can prove very beneficial to other law enforcement agencies when handling these incidents.

Why Use NPPs?

The crisis negotiation coordinator, or team leader, is one of the on-scene commander's key advisors during hostage or barricade incidents. Specifically, throughout the course of these incidents, the on-scene commander relies on the crisis negotiation coordinator to provide periodic briefings that give the status (an overall description of the incident), an assessment (an analysis of the incident), and recommendations (guidance and strategy).

Overall communication can be difficult during a crisis situation. The stress levels of all major crisis management participants are high; the on-scene commander, who is under an enormous amount of pressure, in fact, also may be in crisis. As a result, the crisis negotiation coordinator may find briefing the on-scene commander an arduous task. NPPs serve as visual aids to complement these briefings; however, crisis negotiators should not use them as substitutes for briefings.

Also, negotiation teams ideally share NPPs with the command and tactical components. In this regard, NPPs help ensure that all three components of the crisis management triad (command, negotiation, and tactical) become equally well informed during a crisis situation.

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Of course, NPPs are not used to communicate time-sensitive or life-threatening information obtained by the crisis negotiation team. Such information is relayed immediately to the command and tactical components.

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What Are The Benefits?

NPPs offer many benefits. Specifically, the crisis negotiation team will find that they enhance teamwork, communication, and documentation.

First, preparing NPPs can help the various members of the crisis negotiation team work together effectively. Although NPP writing may involve only one member, all team members contribute ideas. As a result, the entire team focuses on the negotiation effort. To this end, NPP preparation helps ensure that team members become equally aware of all of the latest developments and also keeps them thinking proactively.

NPPs also can serve as briefing documents for those negotiators who may relieve, or complement, other negotiators during an incident. Responding negotiators then not only will have situation boards, logs, and audio tapes but also NPPs to review to help them become fully informed more quickly, thus helping them have an immediate impact during an incident.

In addition to being a written reinforcement of the crisis negotiation coordinator's oral briefing to the on-scene commander, NPPs also can enable the on-scene commander to brief those higher in the chain of command. Not only is this an additional burden removed from the on-scene commander but it also becomes more likely that an accurate account of the negotiation posture is conveyed to higher authorities.

Last, NPPs clearly document the crisis negotiation team's assessments and strategy recommendations throughout entire incidents. This can prove invaluable in cases where there is a difference of opinion during the conduct of a postincident critique or in the event of subsequent litigation proceedings. …

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