Harnessing hostage negotiation techniques for smoother divorce

By Norman Taylor, Consultant

Emotionally charged round table discussions between separating couples and their lawyers can be defused with skills learned from hostage negotiators.

Comparing divorce settlement proceedings with hostage situations may seem extreme, yet farsighted lawyers can harness techniques used by negotiators to positive effect.

Last week I spoke at the annual Northern Lights Collaborative Family Lawyers Conference, which brings together multi-disciplinary practitioners of this specialist area of family law that helps separating couples to avoid divorce courts through a non-confrontational approach.

Colleagues were particularly keen to discuss how hostage negotiation skills could be used in four way meetings between two lawyers and the separating couple. These discussions can be very stressful for the couple, who agree to engage in face to face meetings round a table when they may feel angry, hurt, stressed or even bereft.

In such situations it can sometimes be difficult for lawyers to keep negotiations focussed on the issues that need to be resolved. By understanding and applying hostage negotiation techniques, legal advisers can manage the emotional turbulence to enable the parties to achieve their goal of reaching an outcome that is right for them both and their families.

It also helps to understand that one or both parties in a divorce may feel like a hostage in the separation and divorce process. The hostage mind-set involves feeling trapped, helpless, powerless, disconnected, and unable to influence and persuade. In the collaborative process much importance is attached to ensuring that neither party feels that way but that each party’s feelings or concerns are understood and valued.

So what are the basics of effective hostage negotiations?

  • Contain the situation
  • Lay down the ground rules
  • Listen carefully
  • Build a relationship
  • Create normality
  • Create humanity
  • Develop authority
  • Develop the scene
  • Manage stress
  • Explore solutions
  • Release the hostage

Hostage negotiation skills are transferable across many sectors and are invaluable in business to help resolve conflicts and crises without confrontation.

To find out more how our team of experts at Jones Myers LLP can help you through the collaborative process, call 0113 246 0055 or drop us an e-mail at info@jonesmyers.co.uk.

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