On my first negotiation, before many of you were born, I held a phone receiver in my hand. This receiver was connected to a phone that had pushbutton dial and that was a great innovation that replaced a dial phone. So, if the bad guy hung up, all I had to do was push 7 buttons. The coach listened in by sharing the receiver, meaning closeness and that was somewhat disconcerting. To give a mental image, it would look like Bob Ward and I would be physically cheek to cheek.
Command personnel had to depend on the messenger to relay information from the coach and to deliver command words of wisdom back to the coach. When the phone line was in a house, we asked the needed permission from the homeowners. If we were granted access to the home, we needed additional approval for the use of their phone, the line, the kitchen, the dining room and the living room. The bathroom was optional and sometimes we received coffee, which was tremendously appreciated.
The first problem to solve was the closeness of the primary and coach. After about a year and a half one of our industrious teammates bought a phone, drilled a hole in it and put a connector on the line that would accept a jack. He solicited our communications section for a headset and believe it or not, that worked. The primary used the phone and the coach used the headset, which had no microphone. I guess that’s why it was a “give-away”.
After creating this contraption, the commanders felt cheated because they didn’t have one. This teammate decided to drill another hole, made a connection and ran a line to a speaker in the command area.
During that formative several years, that negotiator/communications wiz brought in a box with neat buttons and introduced us to Rescue Phone. God Bless Sam Hicks! We had become technically sophisticated, at least for a while!
Today’s negotiators are faced with more challenges than what we faced when I was a 1980 rookie negotiator. At that time, teams across America were forming and growing as the need for negotiators was increasing. Each team became very successful after the growing pains of evolving, process of elimination with tactics and perseverance through the road blocks. The new generation of negotiators is faced with the challenge of multiple modes of communication and a multi-cultural landscape. The youth of today have formed their own culture of communicating through technology, social media and multimedia. Even the use of camera stills and video is bursting at the seams!
How prepared are you and your team? Do you have equipment to interface with texting, video, face time or skype chatting and email between you and the suspect? Do you have the capability of all of this while giving your team the ability to follow the conversation? Can this affect coaching, intelligence gathering and decision-making? Who knows, we just need to be prepared. Not only prepared with technology, but the technology that will impact on our style.
This all begs the important question of “Can empathy be delivered through technology and still be effective?” We are all used to listening to a voice, which can tell you so much. We can identify the intensity of feelings, breathing patterns, tone, and so much more. Using email or texting eliminates those opportunities and opens up each communication for interpretation.
Learning the language is increasingly difficult because teenagers and young adults will often use shortcuts or abbreviations while using today’s technology. This generation has their own language and negotiators need to be ready. It’s their culture and we cannot demand that they type whole words or refrain from using a communication style that they have become accustomed to. Miles Young, a writer for “Social Media Today,” calls the language, “textspeak,” an appropriate name.
In one exercise I crafted, we set up two computers that were connected directly to each other and both projected on the screen. One of the scenarios was a suicidal person. The role player really put herself in that role, relying on her knowledge of a suicidal individual. The feelings expressed between the two seemed very sincere and gave us hope for what might happen in the real world. Many across America have studied and researched these phenomena. Another great resource is Negotiator Central and it is a free web site.
As seasoned negotiators, we will have to be patient, well spoken but in a simple pattern of short sentences and everyday language. We have to prepare the needed equipment to make sure command and negotiators will be able to see the conversation unfold. We also need to bone up on textspeak, the phrases using only acronyms and basically the culture of technology. We need to stay ahead of this otherwise we will have problems. Stay focused the future will be quite a learning curve (or a curveball) “LOL.”