High Stakes Holiday Family Negotiation Tips

The holidays provide a chance for family to reconnect–and sometimes it can be stressful. If you could as a top government hostage negotiator–yes, you read that correctly–how to face down your family across the bowl of holiday salad, what advice would such an expert offer?

“Just shut up and listen,” said Frederick J. Lanceley, the F.B.I.’s former senior negotiator and former principal director of its negotiation course, when asked how to get two parties who are at odds with each other to cooperate at the holiday dinner table. “People want to be heard. They want the attention.”


Mr. Lanceley said that during his 26 years with the F.B.I., his active listening skills caused perpetrators in various cases to confess, to ask if they could write him from jail or to even offer him a job. Mr. Lanceley advocated the following course of action: “Repeating what the other person says, we call that paraphrasing. ‘So what you’re telling me is that the F.B.I. screwed you over by doing this and that,’ and then you repeat back to him what he said. Also, emotional labeling: ‘You sound like you were hurt by that.’ ‘You sound like it must have been really annoying.’ Little verbal encouragements: ‘Unh-huh,’ ‘Mm-hmm.’ A nod of the head to let them know you’re there.”

via Crisis Negotiators Give Thanksgiving Tips – NYTimes.com.

So key takeaways include the following:

  • develop deep listening skills
  • use emotional labeling
  • make unsolicited apologies
  • employ the creative acknowledgement of disagreement
  • when you run into trouble, minimize/reframe disagreements
  • find a co-negotiatior (third-party intermediary)
  • develop your own Track II diplomacy by starting a parallel activity outside the main discussion to build confidence and trust.

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