Feel Like a Hostage at Work?

Negotiate the Barbed Wire

Feel like you’re handcuffed to the job? Your direct superior screams; your team ignores your instructions; and, HR won’t even discuss a promotion, raise or transfer to another team with you?

If you’re a hostage in the workplace, negotiate your way out in the same way hostage negotiators do.

Here’s key advice from hostage negotiators over at The Week.

Nothing is So Powerful as Open Ears

Begin with Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions are “non-judgmental, show interest, and are likely to lead to more information.” Here are a few:

  1. How’s business?

  2. What are the greatest challenges is the business is facing?

  3. How can I help with that?

  4. Who is making the most significant contribution to increasing profitability this year?

  5. Why did we experience so significant a downturn last year?

Powerful Trust Builders

Effective pauses

“Pausing,” say the experts, “is powerful. Use it for emphasis, to encourage someone to keep talking or to defuse things when people get emotional.” Silence also makes people uncomfortable and they will invariably fill it with information that you need to know but haven’t even thought to ask.

Minimal encouragers

“Even relatively simple phrases,” say the experts, “ such as "yes," "O.K.," or "I see," effectively convey that a negotiator is paying attention to the subject. These responses will encourage the subject to continue talking and gradually relinquish more control of the situation to the negotiator.”


This is as simple as it is sounds. “Repeating the last word or phrase the person said to show you're listening and engaged. Yes, it's that simple — just repeat the last word or two.”

Say, for instance, “I understand that you’re frustrated with the team’s performance.” Then go silent and follow up with “uh huh, yes, I see, tell me more.”

there is Nothing So Dangerous as Misunderstanding


In previous steps you made an effort to learn what was most important to your bargaining partner. Now you’re putting their statement into your own words to make sure that you actually understood. This avoids miscommunications that can lead to an unstable agreement that your bargaining partner can later contest.

Emotional Labeling

“Give their feelings a name,” say the hostage negotiators. “It shows you're identifying with how they feel. Don't comment on the validity of the feelings — they could be totally crazy — but show them you understand.”

“That must be frustrating,” in response to “it’s not in the budget.” Or, “that must hurt” in response to “they don’t give me the authority to grant a request like that.”

Make Your Proposal a Solution to Your Bargaining Partner’s Problem

Align your interests (promotion/raise) with the interests of both your bargaining partner and the company or firm you both work for. You want a promotion to solve the drag on cash flow that you were just told was the biggest obstacle to profitability last you. You can do that with more human and material resources and a more senior position that will allow you to delegate work that should be in your subordinate’s remit. And the raise? It just comes along with the promotion, right?

Turn that Fifty into a Bunch of Benjamins

We All Need Help

I was always a “could do better” student who didn’t graduate in the top ten percent of any class until I went to law school. Yup. Law school was much harder than high school and University. So why did I do so well?

Because I had a study group!

I spent the first week of law school observing my classmates, trying to decide who were of the smartest, fastest and, frankly, also the nicest and most fun. At the beginning of week two, I screwed up my courage and asked two classmates if they wanted to be in my study group. They said “yes” and all three of us graduated in the top ten percent. I’d thought from the beginning they were top ten material, but I believe I also brought something to the group that was a missing piece for them as well. A suspicious mind, a lively imagination and, I have to admit, an argumentative nature. They gave me - Ms. Last Minute - a steady structure, linear thinking and critical minds.

We all need help. Sometimes just as a backboard to make sure we aren’t fooling ourselves. Choose your inner work team wisely. Stick with the winners.. And if you need to go outside your immediate circle, choose a consultant who is not just fast and smart but also fun and nice.

I won’t demur. I think you’ll find that consultant right here with a fifty buck half hour. And if I disappoint you, I promise to give you your money back. So far, no one has asked for a refund.