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A Practical Guide for All Types of Negotiation: A Look at 150 Laws of Hostage and Crisis Negotiations

By James L. Greenstone, Ed.D., J.D., DABECI

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“The laws of hostage and crisis negotiations?” (Greenstone, 2005). Are these really laws? Or, better put, are they significant apothegms intended to remind of vital elements or to help remember specific procedures when under the stress of negotiations? None of the Laws of Hostage and Crisis Negotiations are absolute. They are however, the collective wisdom of many who have worked and labored in our particular vineyard. Some are as old as the hills; some are made up; some are of recent origin given the growth and complexity of our field. If the novice were to study each of the laws and gain some understanding of their roots and meanings, these novices would probably have completed an entire course in hostage negotiations minus the practical experiences often provided. Read them. Apply them. Heed them. And, while some of the laws, or apothegms, are applicable in other areas of life, they are certainly applicable in this particular endeavor, the goal of which is to save life.

The “Laws”

  • 1.  Reason rather than react.
  • 2.  Innovate, adapt, and prevail.
  • 3.  Contain, isolate, evaluate, negotiate; evaluate, negotiate; evaluate, negotiate.
  • 4.  Never water barren trees.
  • 5.  When you find yourself in a circle, go for the feelings.
  • 6.  If your gut says “no”, don’t go.
  • 7.  Develop your skills so that mistakes are what other people make.
  • 8.  Maximize the utilization of available resources.
  • 9.  Negotiate for as long as a life is worth.
  • 10.  Negotiators don’t command, and commanders don’t negotiate.

  • 11.   Add nothing for, “What it’s worth.”
  • 12.   Knowing what to stay out of is as important as knowing what to get in to.
  • 13.   Care about your other negotiators. Support each other.
  • 14.   Develop arrows for your quiver.
  • 15.   Seek to understand, then to be understood. (Covey)
  • 16.   Speak softly and carry big shtick.
  • 17.   Walk like you fight; fight like you walk.
  • 18.   If the train is not going where you want to go, get off.
  • 19.   To assume anything makes an “Ass” of “You” and “Me.”
  • 20.   Don’t hate your enemies. It will cloud your judgment.
  • 21.   Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • 22.   Silence is golden. Learn to shut up and strike gold.
  • 23.   Never retreat. Just attack in a different direction.
  • 24.   The only failure is non-resolution.
  • 25.   Hostage negotiations is a team effort; not an individual event.

  • 26.   Individuals make the best team players.
  • 27.   Pass the buck regularly.
  • 28.   All things come to those who wait if they work like hell while they wait.
  • 29.   Just because they’re crazy doesn’t mean they’re stupid.
  • 30.   Bumbling isn’t always bad.
  • 31.   Acceptance does not imply agreement.
  • 32.   Shotguns scatter; precision matters.
  • 33.   Win the mind; win the day.
  • 34.   Change behavior. Attitudes will follow.
  • 35.   Most people live in their gut.
  • 36.   Never meet force head-on.
  • 37.   Negotiators have one mouth and two ears. The operational implications are obvious.
  • 38.   “It is a wise man who uses words before resorting to arms.” (Terrence Publius)
  • 39.   “…men, when they receive good from whence they expect evil, feel all the more indebted to their benefactor…” (Machiavelli, “The Prince”)
  • 40.   Semper Ubi Sub Ubi.

  • 41.   “I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.”(George Herbert Mead, Social Psychologist)
  • 42.   “In order to remain helpful, we must remain effective.” (Dr. Edward S. Rosenbluh, 1975)
  • 43.   Hostage and crisis negotiations is not a “wait and see” option.
  • 44.   Downtime is work-time.
  • 45.   Train as if your life and the lives of others depended on it; someday it will.
  • 46.   The more you know, the more you have.
  • 47.   Something for nothing has little value.
  • 48.   It at first you don’t succeed, the hell with it.
  • 49.   Successful hostage negotiations require some common sense and a lot of uncommon sense.
  • 50.   Needs + Wants + Needs = Success
  • 51.   Don’t sell used cars.
  • 52.   Many have the time to do it over; the negotiator must do it right the first time.
  • 53.   The mark of the professional is the condition and availability of his/her tools.
  • 54.   Nothing works all the time with all people.
  • 55.   Gather intelligence intelligently.

  • 56.   Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.
  • 57.   There is no such thing as a good loser.
  • 58.   Suicide has nothing to do with death.
  • 59.   The buck stops somewhere else.
  • 60.   Don’t bullshit a bull-shitter.
  • 61.   Avoid lying.
  • 62.   If you do lie, don’t get caught.
  • 63.   Lie only about big things; never about little things.
  • 64.   Negotiators seldom lie. They just engage in tactical expressions.
  • 65.   Deliver what you promise.
  • 66.   Perception is in the eye of the beholder.
  • 67.   Some things are not as easy as they seem; some are.
  • 68.   Ask them to come out.
  • 69.   Speak of “suicide.”
  • 70.   Words are the lifeblood of the negotiator.

  • 71.   Negotiators can ill-afford the imprecision of language.
  • 72.   Jargon is spoken by jargs.
  • 73.   Control by not controlling.
  • 74.   Courtesy costs you nothing.
  • 75.   Determine, diagnose, dispose.
  • 76.   Plan well. Then, plan again.
  • 77.   The major virtue in telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you’ve said. (My mother of blessed memory)
  • 78.   Negotiators are real cops, too.
  • 79.   Negotiations are like crock-pot cooking; it takes time.
  • 80.   “Good will” is illusive.
  • 81.   First of all, do no harm.
  • 82.   No matter how thin you make your pancakes, they always have two sides.
  • 83.   Persons will never be left the same as you found them.
  • 84.   Hostages deserve our concern.
  • 85.   Bad guys are people, too.

  • 86.   Crazy people are doing the best that they can.
  • 87.   “Deadlines are the sand-traps on the golf course of life.” (Snoopy by Schultz)
  • 88.   It is better to take your time than to take a life.
  • 89.   Slow everything down.
  • 90.   Visualize a successful resolution.
  • 91.   Have a reason.
  • 92.   Don’t let your opening be your closing.
  • 93.   Make haste slowly.
  • 94.   Buck-passing is an art form.
  • 95.   Be an agent of reality.
  • 96.   Rapport unlocks the door.
  • 97.   A negotiator must be: hard of hearing; not too smart; somewhat of a bumbler; a little ignorant; unexciting; and “normal” as well.
  • 98.   Boring is good.
  • 99.   Cover your assets.
  • 100.  Demands are the basis of bargaining.

  • 101.  Sow the seeds of doubt and risk.
  • 102.  Deal only with the problems; and everything is a problem.
  • 103.  Nothing is so important as that which is trivial.
  • 104.  Think “intell.”
  • 105.  Beware of the “spiral of excitement.”
  • 106.  No to “No.”
  • 107.  A negotiated resolution can only occur between two perceived equals.
  • 108.  Difficult negotiations take a while; miracles take a little longer.
  • 109.  Don’t shoot with bullets.
  • 110.  Don’t promise if you can’t do it.
  • 111.  The Goldilocks rule: “It can’t be too hot or too cold; it can’t be too much or too little; it must be just right.” (McGowan)
  • 112.  If you don’t understand, don’t say that you do.
  • 113.  Crystallize your objective.
  • 114.  Create social expectations.
  • 115.  Concentrate on “now,” not on “next.”

  • 116.  “What if” it.
  • 117.  Prove life.
  • 118.  Bank agreements.
  • 119.  Build the positive. Level the negative.
  • 120.  Hot wash up always.
  • 121.  Don’t surrender to surrenders.
  • 122.  Use deaf and dumb interpreters.
  • 123.  Invest in emotions.
  • 124.  Check the time.
  • 125.  Imperturbability is boring.
  • 126.  Train to win; prepare to lose.
  • 127.  Be soft on people; hard on problems.(Fisher)
  • 128.  Go for interests; avoid positions.
  • 129.  Seek alternatives.
  • 130.  Use objective standards.

  • 131.  Don’t call me, I’ll call you.
  • 132.  Try to resolve each situation; acknowledge that you may not resolve every situation.
  • 133.  Hear what isn’t being said.
  • 134.  Luck = Preparation + Opportunity.
  • 135.  You can go anywhere if you have the time.
  • 136.  Don’t judge if you feel no compassion.
  • 137.  Trust in God, but tie your camel tight.
  • 138.  Time will dispose of the trivial.
  • 139.  Negotiators are persons who make waves, and then convince the taker that they are the only ones who can save the ship.
  • 140.  It’s not over until it’s over.
  • 141.  Plan your surrender plan.
  • 142.  Hook ’em hard.
  • 143.  You can learn many good things from a bad situation.
  • 144.  You must do more than “talk the talk.” You must know how to “walk the walk.”
  • 145.  Keep your friends close; keep your mayo jar even closer.
  • 146.  Keep breathing.
  • 147.  Divert force.
  • 148.  Use the subject’s strength against them.
  • 149.  Know when the sky is falling; and when it isn’t.
  • 150.  Persistence is omnipotent.


Greenstone, James L., The Elements of Police Hostage and Crisis Negotiations: Critical Incidents and How to Respond to Them (Binghamton, New York: The Haworth Press, Inc., 2005).

James L. Greenstone Picture
Dr. Greenstone is a Psychotherapist, Mediator, Arbitrator, Negotiator, Author, Professor, Police Officer and Police Behavioral Health Specialist. He is well known as a Police Hostage Negotiator and Trainer. Formerly, he served as the Director of Psychological Services for the Fort Worth, Texas Police Department and as the Operational Police Behavioral Health Specialist for the Hostage and Crisis Negotiation Team. Dr. Greenstone is the author of The Elements of Police Hostage and Crisis Negotiations: Critical Incidents and How to Respond to Them, The Haworth Press, Inc., 2005 (,The Elements of Disaster Psychology: Managing Psychosocial Trauma was published in 2007 by Charles C. Thomas, Publishers ( The Elements of Crisis Intervention, 3 rd Edition was published in 2010. He is the Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations and serves on the governing Council of the Committee on Publication Ethics. Additionally, he is a Diplomate of the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology. Dr. Greenstone may be reached at [email protected]

Copyright © 2012 James L. Greenstone
Copyright © 2012 The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (November, 2012)