“Emotions are the biggest obstacle to successful negotiations”
Negotiation expert Matthias Schranner originally trained as a crisis negotiator with the police and the FBI. For the past 15 years, he and his team at the Schranner Negotiation Institute have advised clients including the UN, global corporations, and political parties on the art of conducting difficult negotiations.
Matthias Schranner used to be a police negotiator; today, he advises politicians and businesses. He talks to us about the most serious mistakes when negotiating, the role your value system plays, and getting the timings absolutely right.
Mr. Schranner, during your time in the police, what was your toughest case?
I was involved in a hostage situation. I was in the same room as the kidnapper; no barriers, no SEK team [the German Special Task Force]. The kidnapper had a gun in his hand and said “Outside – or I’ll shoot the hostage.” That in itself was a formative experience.
How did you resolve the situation?
I negotiated. The first thing you have to do in a situation like this is release the pressure. I told the kidnapper he was making the decisions and that he didn’t have to do so immediately. I assured him that he had control over the situation and was responsible for how it played out. Then, I offered him a deal: We’ll talk for five minutes and then you can decide. We started talking and I was eventually able to persuade him to relent, which gave me the crucial advantage.
Today, you advise politicians and businesses on deals that run into the millions. Are there parallels between the two situations?
We get called in to assist with extremely tough negotiations; for example, when there is only one supplier to negotiate with and failure is not an option. The same principles apply – we have to come to an agreement to prevent catastrophe. The principle of starting by releasing the pressure also applies in business negotiations, along with emphasizing the commonalities and shared history between the two parties. It’s also important to demonstrate a shared future to make it clear that both sides are interested in finding a solution. This is much more effective than focusing on the areas of conflict.
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