FBI hostage negotiation techniques in the classroom

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Violalee, May 24, 2023.

  1. Violalee

    Violalee New Member

    May 24, 2023
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    May 24, 2023

    I love reading posts that offer advice and techniques for teaching - I thought I'd contribute with one of my own.

    I recently read a fascinating book a while back called “Never Split the Difference”. It’s a book by former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss, who started applying his negotiation skills to the business world. I thought to myself “Eureka! There’s obviously nothing more similar to a hostage crisis than a high school classroom. I must learn to apply these ideas!”

    The great thing about Voss is, though he comes off a hardcore tough east coast guy, all of his techniques are basically designed to bring empathy into the situation. A lot of it is about engaging the other party’s empathy by engaging your own, by diffusing social tension.

    Here are a few of his ideas that I found easily applicable to the classroom:

    **Labeling** - This is one of the best ones I’ve incorporated. You basically just state the emotion the student is feeling. “It seems like you’re angry about what I said.” “It seems like you’re feeling bored and would rather be on your phone.” “It seems like you’re having difficulty with my instructions.”

    It does a few things. First, it essentially diffuses the elephant in the room. You’re no longer dancing around what’s obviously true, you’re no longer playing authority games with the students. You’re letting the students know that you understand how they feel. Not in a wishy-washy “let’s share our feelings!” kind of way, but to bring it up as the focus of the discussion. Then it’s there for them to address or not, but it’s there. I’ve found that usually they’ll dive in “yeah, I’m angry because…” or “yeah, of course this is boring because…” It’s a good way of getting the information of why they’re feeling that way, because directly asking hardly ever works.

    **The calibrated question** - Voss talks about how much he loves the question "How am I supposed to do that?"

    It's essentially a way of saying "no" that invokes the other side to think about solutions to their own problems, as opposed to knee-jerk argumentation. I've found this very effective, especially when students ask for less homework, grade changes, etc.

    "You have to give me extra credit, I'm failing!" "How am I supposed to do that?" "What do you mean?" "How am I supposed to give you extra work? Did you turn in all your class work throughout the semester?" "Well no, I'm not sure" "You're not sure?" (mirroring) "No, I guess I didn't, can you tell me what classwork I'm missing?" "How am I supposed to do that?" "Well, I guess I could check online..."

    **The Accusation Audit**

    This is labeling complaints and acquisitions before the students do.

    "Now, I'm going to say something that's gonna make you hate me. You're going to think I'm the worst teacher in the world, that I'm ruining your life." (students are preparing for the worst) "We're going to have to do an extra assignment to make up for the lost days."

    This is another example of talking about the elephant in the room before it gets to big. You jump ahead of complains, anchor expectations, and when you bring up the actual request (or in the context of teaching, assignment), you've already covered the responses. Students are already prepped for the worst - what you actually asked of them probably isn't as bad.

    I'd seriously recommend checking out Voss out on youtube. I know some of these sound ridiculously naiive (espically my fake student conversations, which I know would drag on a lot longer in real life). But when you get a feel for he delivers these techniques, it'll make a lot more sense. Never combative, but always firm - because you're not giving up information, the other side is, your position is never moving.

    And the most striking bit is - students clearly like when I talk to them in this way compared to outright dismissals and argumentation. I've only been trying it for a few weeks, but I've had way less combative interactions. I'm still exploring the uses of this, if you'd join in I'd love to have someone to collaborate with.

    A few other resources I've found useful:

    **Your Third and Final Wish** (http://Thirdandfinalwish.com) - I recommend this recently in other posts I made in an anxiety subreddit, but it had a massive impact on my teaching as well. It's about the source of human dysfunciton and irrationality, how to make sense of and what to do about it. It's a weird one - the author is just some dude, the site is weird, and the book has some very crazy sounding (and disturbing) ideas. And yet basically every chapter led to a massive shift in my worldview. If you read it please let me know, I'd love to discuss it with someone else.

    **Smart classroom management**

    A fantastic site. I've been following this guy for ages, he's got posts on how to deal with just about every classroom situation that can arise. He's got very different viewpoints from what universities and PDs teach, but that's always a good thing to be exposed to.


    Either way, I hope you got something out of any of this. Teaching is tough, I'm still learning, but there are definitely ways to make it easier, simplicities just waiting there to be found learned and used. Have a great week!
    nstructor likes this.

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