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The Hostage Negotiator’s Guide to Change Management

By Simon Horton

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Many years and careers ago, I was a young fresh-faced management consultant, involved in a very high-profile multi-billion pound outsourcing project. Unfortunately, this project was not going smoothly. Why not? Because there was resistance to the change – quelle surprise!

Specifically, there was resistance from just one person – but one person who was very loud, well-connected and stubborn. And she was jeopardising the whole shooting match. Holding the whole project hostage. And it was this fresh-faced young management consultant who was sent to deal with her.

It’s ironic, really, because now I teach negotiation skills and have even taught hostage negotiators. But I knew nothing of those skills back then and I had to freestyle it. But I just wonder whether a hostage negotiator could have taught me something useful in my predicament back then.

Holding the project hostage

Indeed, hostage crises are often initiated by change of some sort, a change that the hostage-taker does not take kindly to and decides to fight. They make demands that are, frequently, totally undeliverable and the negotiator has a choice: talk, send in the SWAT team or, most frequently, take some kind of parallel approach.

Not dissimilar to the project leader’s situation. Resistance to change is common and those resistors really can hold the project hostage.

Of course, we don’t want to stretch the analogy too far – we certainly won’t be recommending purchasing helicopter gunships for your change team. And likelihood of death should be lower in the project situation. But there are similarities and my advice-giving negotiator would certainly have recognised many of the issues I faced.

The Hostage Negotiator’s Guide to Change Management By Simon Horton


Copyright © 2012 Simon Horton
Copyright ©   2012  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (October, 2012)