Advice from a Former Chief Negotiator Royal Canadian Mounted Police

March 24, 2015

Building Trust Under Pressure

Bill Brydon spent 32 years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). As the leader of the RCMP’s Crisis Negotiator Team in Nova Scotia he mastered the art of building trust under pressure. In this role he trained other police officers to peacefully resolve life and death situations. Most of the time he negotiated over the phone or through a loud hailer.

Although business negotiations are usually much different in tone and outcome, these lessons are never the less important for business leaders.

Brydon’s approach to negotiating starts with assessing and listening. This approach leads to building trust.

Here are some of his guidelines:

  • “Understand the situation before you begin negotiations.” When Brydon was called the risks were high, therefore current and accurate information was needed to assess the situation. Using an extensive questionnaire he sought information that he could use to assist him in building trust.
  • “Keep your mouth shut and your ears open” - Brydon demonstrated with actual examples how much we can learn when we actively listen. We listened to a recording of a hostage negotiation. During the initial 90-second exchange Brydon spoke less than 10 words, however he learned the hostage takers motivation, who else was in the building, what the hostage meant to him and what his short and long term needs were. Further, he learned the subject had a racial bias, did not like the government and did not trust the police. Brydon’s objective was to apply the active listening skills of emotional labeling, paraphrasing, mirroring, and “I” messages to help control the emotion, earn trust and end the situation without anyone getting hurt.
  • Focus - Brydon has negotiated from cars, sheds, houses and outdoors in extreme Canadian weather. Negotiators need to be skilled at tuning out external influences and focus on the person being spoken to, making sure they know they are important and valued.
  • Master the art of the open-ended question - Brydon routinely asked questions that could not be answered with a simple yes or no answer. He wants people to talk. When I listened to one of Brydon’s recorded calls in a hostage situation, he started with one of his favourite questions, “How is everybody doing?” followed by, “What is going on in there?”
  • When the negotiation breaks down, start over - A crisis negotiator knows that there is a natural process to the negotiation and you cannot skip steps. When the negotiation stumbles you have to go back to the last step that you were successful at and start over.

When asked what advice Brydon would give a seasoned negotiator with 10 – 20 years experience, he said, “ Never stop learning.” He then recounted a story of a role-play situation where the actor knew right away that the negotiator (with 15 years experience) was not taking her seriously. The negotiator was slumped in her chair, displayed an uncaring attitude and the actor was able to sense the disinterest over the phone. Crisis negotiators have to be 100% engaged, as it could be the difference between ending or saving lives.

Now, as the Director of Operations for Commissionaires Nova Scotia, Brydon applies the skills he learned as a crisis negotiator to the business environment.