Interview with FBI Negotiation Expert Kirk Kinnell
Kirk Kinnell is a highly experienced police negotiator. Since 1995, Kirk has been deployed to approximately two hundred hostage and crisis negotiator incidents, as well as a number of occasions where UK nationals have been kidnapped abroad. Kirk has been a lead advisor to the U.S. Law Enforcement and has instructed internationally at the Crisis Negotiator Course of the FBI. More recently, Kirk has been working for the private sector, applying the negotiation framework for success in difficult business negotiations.
Interview: As a hostage and crisis negotiator, you’ve been highly involved in the most difficult negotiations—where people’s lives were at stake. Among those negotiations, which one was the most difficult one?
Kirk Kinnell: All negotiations are unique and difficult in their own way. Sometimes when people are kidnapped abroad, there are usually more stakeholders involved and this can be very challenging, but the most complex negotiations I ever undertook was on 10 February 2012.
An ex-military man entered a restaurant in Glasgow City Centre claiming to have a bomb vest strapped to his body. He entered the restaurant and police were contacted to attend the scene. Negotiations had to be remote and initially by telephone due to the potential explosion safety cordon distances, This very busy area was evacuated and we established a team inside a nearby restaurant.
During the negotiations it became clear that the man was hallucinating and suffering PTSD from his previous military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was not co-operating with our requests. After some very tense moments where he repeatedly threatened to detonate the device we received advice from the psychologists that the man may respond to military command instructions. We decided to use a negotiator with military experience to perform that role and this tactic went against everything we had previously understood when dealing with mental illness. We never entered in to their unreality…On this occasion we did so and much to our surprise the man came out of the building and left his jacket inside. It was later cleared by bomb disposal who found that it was not a viable device.
In addition to negotiating with the man, I later assumed the team leader role and thereby had to negotiate with the local commander to ensure my firearms team complimented the negotiating strategy and that no lives were put at risk.
From your experience, what do the best negotiators have in common?
From my experience, the best negotiators have excellent listening skills which help them understand all of people that they deal with.
In addition, a combination of courage and humility which then commands the respect of others and subsequently encourages them to follow you.
What do you think are the most important elements to win a difficult negotiation?
In order to win difficult negotiations, the most important elements are:
Do your homework! Have a long list of your demands (know your outcome), anticipate theirs. By anticipating theirs you can drive the agenda and not react to their pressure.
Make decisions based on facts…not assumptions.
Listen carefully, pay attention and figure them out!!! Once you understand what makes them tick you will know their strengths and weaknesses and can thereby influence them to achieve your objectives.
Never compromise – keep going to get what you need and what is acceptable to them.
Be fearless and calm in the face of attempts to apply overwhelming pressure. Welcome and anticipate the pressure.
Enjoy the conflict, it is where you learn about the similarities and differences.
Everyone needs to get through this with their dignity intact, allow them to lose with the illusion of victory. Thank them for helping you get through the difficult challenges.
Want to learn more? For the first time ever, Kirk Kinnell will be in Shanghai on November 5 + 6 to deliver a negotiation seminar for business people. Sign up here.