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Conflict Management Skills Managers Can Learn From Hostage Negotiators

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TLDR? You can listen to a summary of the post on our recent podcast, but for more detail, keep reading!

Almost no one likes dealing with conflict at work (unless you’re a professional wrestler or a trial lawyer). But for managers, conflict resolution is part of the job description. Despite this, few managers feel confident in their conflict management skills. (In our 2020 survey of managers, only 6.3% said they felt “very prepared” to deal with their team’s interpersonal dynamics.)

If you feel out of your depth when navigating tense situations, consider turning to the experts: hostage negotiators. These professionals have mastered the art of defusing conflict when it’s literally life-or-death. Hostage negotiators specialize in the types of conflict that managers most dread: dealing with highly emotional people and finding resolutions even when you can’t give the other party what they want.

Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss has made a living teaching business leaders psychological techniques to negotiate more effectively. Here, we’ll go over some of Voss’s conflict management skills, along with other principles of hostage negotiations. Along the way, we’ll show how you can put these conflict resolution techniques into practice as a manager.

Conflict Management Skills: Active Listening

The first mistake most managers make is trying to resolve conflict without ever really listening to the other person. According to Voss, “Most people . . . don’t walk into a negotiation wanting to hear what the other side has to say. They walk into a negotiation wanting to make an argument.” And here’s the kicker: The person you’re negotiating with is doing the same thing. When neither party is there to listen, it’s a surefire recipe for miscommunication and escalation.

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