A hostage negotiator teaches leadership through bonding | George Kohlrieser | TEDxFultonStreet

A hostage negotiator teaches leadership through bonding | George Kohlrieser | TEDxFultonStreet

Sam is holding a scissors to Sheila's throat and in holding that scissors he's threatening her threatening the people around him saying that he is going to kill as many people as he can now my question for you what would you say what would you do I'll come back to the end of that story later I want to start by indicating that there are ways in which you can be a hostage physically and there are ways in which you can be a hostage psychologically and the whole thing about how to understand is to put together leadership as the foundation to that I've been veteran hostage negotiator of some 40 years I'm an author of two books mostly around hostage negotiation and its application to leadership I'm also a professor of leadership at IMD in Switzerland and I've been held hostage four times myself I'm very happy to be here today what I'm going to teach you is what you can actually do should you be in either situation god forbid you ever are physically taken hostage but what you can do when you are psychologically hostage now back to the story Sam cuts the throat of Sheila she starts bleeding screaming grabbing a bandage on the side of her neck Sam steps back and he comes towards me around the table and with the scissors pointed directly at me I have a nanosecond to decide do I talk to him do I call the police in or do my throw my body at his feet the only solution was to keep talking and I did but it got worse because he put the scissors now to my throat never cutting my throat but very hard I instinctively put my hands up around his arms looking into his eyes I saw such rage such hatred and such deep grief that I tried everything and nothing work worked in desperation I said to him Sam how would you like your children to remember you he screamed don't ever talk about my children I'll kill them to bring them I'll kill everybody I I can I have no hope I have nothing to live for I'm going to die on the surface this sounds negative would you agree but it's not why is it not negative it was the first moment that Sam and I connected and after another 20 minutes with further dialogue around this connection breaking and coming back he allowed Sheila to leave the room he gave me the scissors which I promptly thrown the floor and he allowed himself to be handcuffed and to walk out now what happened there with understanding the transaction how do you want your children to remember you and his really negative response is really a basic part to understand how sometimes someone who is pushing back is that be cereal is actually trying to make a bond he was saying to be how deeply in pain he was and that's what I had to hear and to understand psychological hostage taking you have to understand that people well they tie their heart up they're in deep grief deep revenge deep fear and so they can't live with full joy and you can be a hostage to other people you can be a hostage to a situation but even worse you can be a hostage to yourself and I've been a hostage many times to myself now we also need to understand what these patterns and principles are that hostage negotiators used so effectively hostage negotiators have to create a bond with some of the most despicable people you can imagine create a dialogue go into their motivation which is always going to be pain and loss and negotiate to find a way for them to give up their hostages what do you think his success rate would be 50% 75% 90% try 95% that's the level of effectiveness of the art and science of hostage negotiation and the principles start out with this idea of managing yourself because this is a leadership process leading yourself and then leading others I'm reminded of the story of the literal grandmother she wakes up in the middle of the night there's a man standing over her bed ready to kill her he has a club her granddaughter's in bed with her she says to the man you must be hungry you must be cold he hesitates he says to the granddaughter he's not going to hurt us you could go back to sleep she gets out of bed locks her arm around him round him walks into the kitchen and has soup and talks with him and then says it's too cold out there let me make a bed for you behind the stove totally ignoring the club she goes back to bed the next night the next morning the police arrive and they're shocked to find she's still alive because the man who had been there was a murderer who had escaped from prison but even more shockingly just two miles before coming to her house he brutally slaughtered four people – parents had two children you see this grandmother manage her own emotion her own amygdala and was able then to bandage his and she understood people cannot kill people you say well George I read everyday in the paper people killing people no they kill objects they kill things there's a deep personalization that has to happen before you really can kill another human being and many people are trained into that mindset now what I'm going to ask you to do is think about how you manage yourself how you lead how you lead others you're ready to do a little exercise I want you to look at someone around you behind you next you put your finger up let me see your finger the right finger make sure it's the right finger look at them right in the eye somebody you don't know and I want you to say you look like an inspiring leader to me because leadership is about inspiring it's not about discouraging it's about taking yourself into areas of discomfort driving your own change building ways of being able to develop your talents and the second principle is around bonding and connection now connection means that you are able to get into the space of another human being that's a pretty powerful thing proximity the space of another human being but it doesn't stop there once you are in that space once you are connected you have to create a bond like I did with Sam like the literal grandmother did with this man and the bonding is the synergy it's the chemistry it's what you create that allows the emotion to flow and you do not have to like someone to bond to them let me repeat you do not have to like someone to bond with them hostage negotiators don't start out liking the person their nose goshi ating with normally huh but through a common goal you're able to build that bond but it doesn't stop there what happens is the bonding which we all love in which well some people love some people don't like bonding separation is always going to come a broken the bond a break is a bond a loss of frustration death disappointments you name the possibilities of what breaks the bond and that is the most powerful motivator in human beings there is it's 80% people are driven by their loss fears of loss or anticipated loss and the grit the sadness the break in that bond opens the grieving process and grieving is essential to get over something to come back to the joy of life you are a hostage if you don't go through if you can't get over something and the stages of grief are extensive including ultimately forgiving and discovering again gratitude and I'll come back and revisit that now let me go on to the next point which is around trust Trust is central to what actually has to happen and without trust you don't go very far Trust is based on a secure base when you are able to create a certain safety with someone create a certain protection then it shuts down the brain you all know the brain is fundamentally negative but if you live that way you're going to die prematurely because it makes you sick and you're going to make others miserable while you're waiting to die so what you have to do is rewire your brain to be able to get over the pains fundamental drive to avoid pain it's fundamental goal is survival but you can't live that way and I'm reminded of Frank he was 90 when I first met him naturally resilient and as I got to know him I always asked him Frank what's the secret to living so long and he came up with all kinds of little clever answers and about two years after I met him he said George I think I have the answer the party is not over yet now Frank would still shed tears over people he lost in the First World War the Second World War he lost his mother when he was 10 he lost his wife after 54 years of marriage which is very risky for premature death but he always got over it he left bygones be bygones and he went through that grief he came back to the joy he was not a psychological hostage and his goal was to live to be a hundred which meant he got a letter like this from the Queen of England and he was proud to have such a letter and he made it but not only did he make it to he was a hundred and a hundred years old he made it into three centuries so he got a second letter and Frank died at 105 and I saw him two months before he died blind in a military hospital and he said to me tell everybody I know you meet a lot of people tell everybody they have to enjoy the party – it's over now secure base what is this a secure base well it's unperson a place an object a thing a symbol which allows you to feel protected to feel inspired to be able to change and seek change and be able to do things that wouldn't ordinarily do if you are filled with fear you contract with secure bases and they range broadly you have to be able then to build the trust to shut down that mechanism in the brain to see the opportunities to fail take risks have pain like a marathon runner they have to be able to endure pain for the benefit of the outcome if you cannot train your brain to enjoy pain at the right moment delayed gratification you will never truly be successful shortly after I met Frank I had a son I do sons at that point Doug and Paul Doug was in medical school at 23 he was in a motorcycle accident he lived for five days and died the deepest grief in my love life I could have easily been a hostage and I was for a time believing I could never get over this I couldn't go forward and Paul deserved a father who was filled with joy again so I had to go through the grief to come out of it to be a good father and when I saw Frank a short time after that he came across the room with his arms outstretched tears in his eyes and he said I understand George and he took me into his arms and I started crying he started crying and he said I never told you I also lost a son and he inspired me by saying you will always miss your son but you don't have to always feel grief you can come back to the joy of life the party is not over yet this was Doug and I have since said you're biting him many times but I have come over it and not allowed myself to be a hostage three years later I have another son Andrew and Andrew deserved a joyful father not a father who was a hostage not a father who was grieving not a father who was a victim I want to come out of this with the attitude of life is filled for joy and I learned something very important from Elisabeth kubler-ross who was a friend and a colleague and a teacher mind do what you do to honor the people who died or pass away before you so part of my honoring Doug is being here today and I do many things in my life to honor him I was really flying to the islands in the Faroe Islands and sitting on that plane was a woman in her 80s and we hit turbulence that was strong and she was started crying and screaming she had an anxiety attack hitting her head against the wall and the plane and pulling her hair she was really losing it and now here's the second thing the third tape or thing that hostage negotiators do they talk they dialogue they listen to get inside and so I reached out and took her hand and de noir name I just said we're going to be okay and she squeezed my hand still screaming she squeezed harder and I said hold on and then I said the plane is going to hold us up and she said we're going to die and I said no we're not going to die I know this plane can hold us and she said how do you know that now see that was another one of those turning points she allowed me to be a secure base and within a short time we agreed that we were going to have fun and we actually took arms and we were dancing with the turbulence and she became very very calm and actually put her head on my shoulder talking dialogue and being able to listen becomes very very important and some people don't talk well they talk too much they don't answer questions they do all kinds of things but have a dialogue and we teach an IMD the principal that you say what you have to say in one word or one sentence excuse me or four sentences at the maximum and if you need more than ask if you can say more and ask questions with 15 words or less now business organizations that is very uncommon now let me just walk through the other points put the fish on the table this is an expression that says you have to learn to like dealing with conflict you just if you're not going to be a hostage you have to be able to deal with conflicts differences and putting a fish on the table means if there is that difference put it on the table go through the bloody smelly mess of cleaning it because if all the conflicts were under the table and they were fish they would start smelling huh and there's a lot of smelly fish around your job is to get that fish on the table and clean it for the great fish dinner at the end of the day lastly having a leadership mindset to be able to as Adriana did here and Sheba is actually on Ted in the Boston bombing losing part of her leg and what happened is she said I'm not going to be a victim I'm going to be a survivor she's learning how to dance again to be able to go on with dance Dancing with the Stars or like Nelson Mandela who lived for 27 years in prison coming out speaking reconciliation and forgiveness he had been a hostage could he have been resentful could he have been bitter but he was not he said let bygones be bygones we're going to look to the future and he got over that that's really fundamental so look at your partner again put that finger out very quickly and remind them that they can do anything they want to do um I have some questions for you and here's the point leadership is about leading yourself would you agree if you can't lead yourself why in the heck would anybody follow you maybe out of fear maybe out of need maybe all the kinds of things but not because you are a secure base and I wrote the book care to dare to create that whole idea of how you become a secure base as a leader 100% caring but being tough being able to deliver people pain to people and being able to say what is the truth because part of conflict management in addition to putting the fish on the table is telling the truth would you'd rather be told to lie with a kiss or slapped in the face with the truth high performers want to know the truth so here's the questions are you a hostage to someone or something or to yourself and how do you lead yourself secondly how do you connect how do you bond and when necessary let go what losses have you never gotten over do you have secure bases that inspire you they give you a feeling of protection and are you a secure base to someone like I was to the lady on the plane or how are you a talking in dialogue do you answer questions are you able to ask questions do you show interest in curiosity and other people many times dialogue can only begin after a question you have to be curious about the other person if you're more interested in being interesting you're going to be boring but you have to be in the others and lastly how are you at dealing with conflict putting those fish on the table and do you have the mindset full of joy no matter what has happened in your life story now the idea worth passing on the TED philosophy what's the idea that's worth passing on it's about never being a hostage to anyone anything anywhere at any time even to yourself and coming back to the full joy of life and ultimately in living with that full joy you're going to challenge yourself you're going to go through pains life itself is a risk if you're afraid to take risk you're not going to live life in a full inspiring way and you have to be able as a ruffler Everson said you go do not go where the path may lead go instead where there is no path and leave a trail thank you for listening and god bless you

18 thoughts on “A hostage negotiator teaches leadership through bonding | George Kohlrieser | TEDxFultonStreet

  1. Wonderful man and great talk, thank you so much. My relationships were ego to ego, liking or disliking others. After a life of emotional pain I was finally forced to surrender my ego and thank God, open my heart. I now relate as one being to another – it has allowed my life to change completely, I am seldom threatened by anyone – how can love be threatened. By the way the 'Peace Pilgrim' was a great inspiration to me.

  2. Thank you for an epic talk George.

    I love the way you present this info. Relate to it well.

    George's book, Hostage at the Table via amazon:


  3. would be nice to have the ads for George Kohlrieser's books
    Language: EnglishBinding: HardcoverPublisher: Citadel PrISBN: 9780787983840, 0787983845Edition: illustrated edition, 2009

  4. Must we suffer through such breathless, patronizing melodrama to hear a few surface points? I certainly would not want this man negotiating with a hostage-taker for my benefit. Telling your audience to "let bygones be bygones" teaches nothing. Don't you think people would follow this if were as simple as hearing an adage? The salient points of the subject drown in his pandering approach. He also fails to mention that some hostage-takers are not posers who just want a hug- they are serious about their intentions and will not be trifled with, especially not by this heaving emoter as a potential negotiator. Another important point for dealing with hostage-takers is to break the pattern he/she has established. This man gets paid to do this?

  5. The best professor I ever had – during my MBA at IMD Switzerland… I highly recommend the book 'Hostage at the table'… Life altering no less!

  6. It's strange that his speaking rhythm, his pitch and his breathing breaks all the rules, yet he's pretty effective. Great topic; I came here because Daniel Goleman linked to it.

  7. Very interesting talk George. If you ever plan a trip to HK, please let me know. It would be a pleasure to host a TEDx Salon with you while here in town. Vinny, Curator TEDxWanChai

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