Why business is like ... hostage negotiation

The parallels between trying to secure the release of a hostage from an AK-47-wielding terrorist and getting a better deal from your paper supplier may not be obvious, but hostage negotiators have much to offer their corporate counterparts.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Roy Ramm is Britain's leading hostage negotiator. From Bogota to Basra, if you're unfortunate enough to end up bound and blindfolded, it may well be his services you'll be praying for. Ramm seems a stern man with a thick-set build and a firm gaze. And yet, he says (suddenly sounding more like Vanessa than Vinnie), his secret weapon is an ability to build a bond with his adversary. His skill extends to engineering affection between captors and captive. 'We might send them pizza to share with the hostages, but we won't send knives. They'll have to tear the pizza with their hands, and sharing even this most minor indignity with their captive will build camaraderie and reduce the likelihood of harm coming to those in their charge.'

The hostage negotiator is a master seducer. Ramm works hard to establish a rapport with his counterparty. Like free chips at the casino, he says, 'a bond costs nothing but buys considerable negotiating leverage'.

In business, even the language of negotiation is combative: we 'strike' deals, 'squeeze' the other side and like to be called 'hard-nosed'. Ramm considers this unwise; you increase your bargaining power by building a bond with your counterparty. The fact that parallels exist between guerrilla warfare and business is hardly surprising. The interesting thing is that whereas we in business wield a battering ram, people like Ramm try emotional intelligence and rapport-building - and a round of pizza.

- Jenny Harris is Young Businesswoman of the Year and director of JRBH Strategy & Management, www.jrbh.co.uk.

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