What I Learned as an FBI Hostage Negotiator You Can Use in Difficult Business Situations

By Chip Massey, When and How Agency Partner

Be the Calmest Person in a Room 

People often ask me how I handled the stress of being a FBI hostage negotiator. I usually counter with, ‘well how do you handle the stress of your job?’ To which they typically reply ‘Oh come on, I don’t have people threating to kill someone if I mess up!’ Then I say ‘stress is relative.’ Let me explain.

As a special agent and hostage negotiator with the FBI, I was trained to deal with the stress and pressures of life and death situations. The consistent application of skills learned, and refinement of this learning while encountering people in crisis on a daily basis, was my normal. Responding to rapidly unfolding crisis situations was a regular part of the job.


A business crisis is no less stressful and the pressures are just as real. I remind executives how they respond to their crisis can mean the difference in whether they get a promotion or are told to box up their belongings.

How leaders respond to a crisis event as it is unfolding can many times mean the difference of either staying in business or being consumed by the fires of the crisis. Adele Cehrs of the When + How Agency is one of the best practitioners out there in helping leaders and companies respond to crisis events within their businesses. She tells leaders during a crisis event there are thousands of decisions to be made and it is imperative to make the right calls on each one.

Being trained in dealing with stress and knowing how to respond to a crisis event, is critical to your leadership. When you know you have the skills and have been given the preparation to face these threats to your company, it gives you one serious advantage. Namely confidence.

Psychologist call this self-efficacy. That is the knowledge you possess the abilities to successfully handle the event. One of the amazing benefits to being trained to handle crisis’ is your ability to be calm in the storm. You know how to prevent your brain from being held captive to fight or flight mode of thinking. You know how to engage you higher analytical thinking powers. This produces a calm from within. When you are calm it has the effect of bringing those around to a calmer state as well.

We look for calm and confidence in our leaders. The good news is you can absolutely acquire the practices which will give way to the skills of bringing yourself to a calmed state of mind. The calm comes from the confidence in your abilities to bring about the desired performance.

Norman Schwarzkopf had a saying he would give to his troops: “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” The implication is clear, training gives you the competencies to successfully handle the crises when they come about.

Would you like to learn what the skills and practices are to acquire a calm and confident state of mind, even in the crucible of the crisis?

Come to our powerful one-day workshop, CONVINCE ME: The Science of Convincing people To Move to Agreement, Belief, Consent or a New Course of Action on November 4, 2019 in New York, NY.