Click Here To Listen To The NEGOTIATEx Podcast

What You'll Learn In Today's Episode

  • Find opportunities to learn by experience. Mike volunteered with a local crisis outreach. At worst, you’ll learn more about your community. At best, the more you do it, the more your comfort level during negotiations will rise.
  • Keep asking “why.” Find out why the other party has made their choices and if anything precipitated them, why that happened, as well.
  • Don’t be pessimistic, but consider possible worst-case scenarios ahead of time. This lessens the likelihood of surprise, should things go sideways.
  • Review things after the fact. Regularly assess what worked and what didn’t. You can improve your processes with the data.

How Hostage Negotiators Improve The Process:

Welcome back to NEGOTIATEx Podcast! Our returning special guest is Mike Baker, a retired LAPD SWAT Crisis Negotiation Team Officer. Today is Part 2 of Episode 19: We couldn’t fit all his outstanding content into one segment. So, here’s the rest.

The Power of Review

Mike Baker helped pioneer after-action negotiations assessments from the parties involved in previous LAPD cases. In other words, he started speaking with people who’d been detained or incarcerated following a successful negotiation.

Mike started going back to talk to them about their perspective on SWAT’s negotiations. He asked what resonated, what had fallen flat, and so on. This proved highly informative.

Much of the information he gained helped hone department negotiators’ skills and understanding. SWAT started seeing more peaceful surrenders.

Mike also discusses learning from mistakes.  He recalls a hostage situation one Christmas Eve.  Team members were grumbling about having been called in from their holiday.

Due to their understandable frustration, they showed little concern for their surroundings. The hostage-taker overheard them. This mistakenly convinced him that no one cared if he survived.

No lives were lost, thankfully. However, extracting him from the situation proved harder than it might have. SWAT had to use aggressive tactics to free the hostages and subdue him.

If those team members had maintained discretion, a peaceful resolution might have been possible. Successful negotiating always involves awareness of one’s surroundings and the impacts of others on our negotiations.

Keep Asking Why

Above all, Mike Baker recommends that negotiators continually ask why: In a law enforcement context, he’d ask “Why did you kill your wife?” When they replied, “I was angry,” he’d ask “Why were you angry?”

From there, he’d respectfully probe even further, seeking the root. Vital information was often discovered this way; by working backward toward the root.

People aren’t always fully aware of their real interests. In fact, our technology-centered lives sometimes make it easy to stay preoccupied. Someone can be intelligent, talented… and still oblivious; completely unaware of what’s turning their wheels.

Whether the other party in a negotiation is an incarcerated criminal or renowned CEO, we should seek to understand their underlying interests.

Once you understand someone’s interests, you have a greater chance of learning why they make the choices they do. Stick to your goals, while using this knowledge to tailor empathetic proposals. As a result, you’ll raise the chances of a favorable outcome.

Key Takeaways

  • Active listening allows you to find your hook—a person’s real concern that will allow you to keep the negotiation moving forward.
  • Invest in Yourself—Having an assortment of different tools and understanding how to apply each of the tools to your specific negotiation will only benefit you and your team.
  • Experience is the greatest teacher—The only way to get better at negotiation is to practice.  When you can’t get real-world experience, role-playing can be beneficial.

Mike Baker shares more of his experience in this edition of the NEGOTIATEx Podcast!  Questions and episode suggestions to team@negotiatex.com are always welcome. Don’t forget to drop bynegotiatex.com for more information on today’s topic and our negotiation prep tool, either.

Your time’s important to us. Thanks for listening!


Nolan Martin : On today's show. We are going to continue our discussion with Mike Baker. Who's a retired LAPD SWAT crisis negotiation team officer. If you didn't get a chance to listen to part A from last week's episode, be sure to do so before listening to this episode. There, Mike talked about being thrown into his first negotiation, truly understanding what active listening means and developing a thirst to learn more skills, to become a much better and diversified negotiator. All right, enough from me, enjoy part B of this show.

Aram Donigian : Another thing we so often talk about Mike is, you know, the power of review. And I remember the first time meeting you and talking about the work you were doing, you shared about this program you'd been part of where you would go in and in the back into prisons, talk to people. In a kind of a debrief situation that you had negotiated with to find out what worked. And I mean, not only did that so well mirror kind of the Army's after-action review process, but it really struck, I thought at the core of the idea of as negotiators kind of, regardless of industry, do we review our negotiations? And could you tell us a little bit about like what you were doing, what you learned through that program?

The Power Of Review [02:55]

MB : I accidentally ran across a detective that was assigned to the department’s mental evaluation unit. That was her job. It was part of their program, was to go follow up on people. And these were mostly mentally ill people that were booked like 5150, um, and you know, unable to care for themselves and stuff like that. And they were taken into custody, put on 72 hour holds or whatever, and then returned back to their neighborhood or something like that, into their homes. And they would have to do welfare checks on these people to see how they're doing, make sure that they hadn't, since the time they got back into their homes obtained a rifle or a pistol or anything like that. And, and, and, you know, make sure that they didn't have anything dangerous around the house and find out how their life is gone, whether they're on their medications and things like that.

And I was talking to her about it, kind of a light bulb kind of came out of my hand. I thought, well, this is kind of interesting. Um, ‘cause we run into a lot of those people at our SWAT situations, they're involved in crimes and not only do sometimes they get housed in metal facilities, but they get housed in prisons and, and in psychiatric wards and they're in custody there, or sometimes they're just, they're not mentally ill at all. They just, it was a crisis that put them in prison. And SWAT responded and I will tell you honestly, and I don't know how it works for you in the military when you do this because you guys are doing a fantastic job and something that obviously they didn't do when I was in the military, but you guys, you guys are so much smarter and you figured out that it might be interesting to talk to people I thought was wow, what a novel idea.

I thought, well, can we start looking at these people that we had were something so SWAT cause some barricades, the crimes that we went to SWAT was called out on that we negotiated on, and talk to them and find out what their perspective was on the negotiations, what their opinion was about, you know, what happened. What we could have done better, what we did bad, what we did that caused them to stay in there longer and made us have to tactically resolve something. You know, kick the door down, exploded or something like that. And go in and make an explosive entry versus just having to talk about and walk out the front door and drop the gun. And in those situations, why did you do that? Versus, you know wait for something else to happen.

I took a lot of negative feedback from that in police publications, they would publish us. Do you remember the New York times did a story on us? They put that in a couple of the police made magazines and things like that. And people read it and the feedback was like, yeah, right now we're going to start listening to criminals you idiots. you know, what have you what are you doing? This SWAT team you're doing this? And I'm thinking, okay. So I had to deal with the machismo garbage that you know, that the typical, you know, ‘I joined police department to shoot 'em up, bang, bang’. I wanted to go after, you know, the John Dillingers of the world, you know, the Mansons of the world. And I'm not talking to anybody, they're all bad, they're all evil.

And all I thought was, you know what, I don't necessarily disagree with you. I mean, I think there are some people where tactical intervention is the only way to go, but why not listen to these people? Even if you sit down with them for an hour, you know, and all you get is one minute of something that might be helpful to you. That to me was a success. It was something that would cause me to do my job better as a negotiator. A lot of times they spew a lot of garbage, you know, a lot of anti-police stuff, and a lot of them are under the influence and they don't even remember what happened, half the things that happened. But if I can get anything at all out of it, then I consider it a positive thing.

MB : And honestly, we got a wealth of information on these people, a lot of stuff that was very, very helpful. A lot of it that I threw out, but I will agree with people that you might consider that a waste of time, but the minute that I get something positive, it's no longer a waste of time. I don't mean to ramble too much on this, but my logic was Aram was that there is a certain component, percentage of negotiations being successful. That is, that is basically luck. It's just plain luck and then there's talent. And then there's the way you do the job correctly and stuff like that. That's, that's part of it too. That's involved. But to say that there's no luck involved. I, I beat mine cause there's a lot, there's a lot, there's a lot of luck, you know? Um, sometimes you just say the right thing and boom, it, you didn't even mean to do it.

You did. Or sometimes people just say the heck with you before me, I'm tired of talking to you. They walk out and you're just lucky. But what I wanted to do was minimize that percentage. I feel if you go into negotiations thinking that you're going to win because you're a really lucky guy and 80% of the time, you're lucky and you ended up winning, um, you're in for a rude awakening. So, the more you can lower that percentage and increase the amount of knowledge you have at doing the job correctly, you have a better chance of being successful. So, my goal was to always was to do everything, to train, to teach, to read books, to go to seminars, to go to the West Point negotiation, project, everything, to get as much information I can to lower that luck quotient. To go into a situation with more skill than luck, a better chance of winning, that was the whole point behind it.

AD : So, Mike talking about, you know, just learning and being prepared, we so often learn from failures. Are you able, would you be willing to share a time when, you know, your negotiation team potentially learned, the lesson the hard way through failure?

Learning From Failures [08:11]

MB : Yeah, I can. I can talk specifically, I think, first off about a, uh, a situation that involved, I think a failure of the unit, which I'm obviously part of, so that it would be a failure to work for me. I was not a negotiator on the citizen and I was a tactical team member, but we had an individual who was barricaded inside a residence, with his wife and his daughter. It's Christmas Eve, and they got into some type of argument that day that caused the wife to stab the husband. I believe he got stabbed in the hand by her by scissors or something like that. And his response was to basically beat her and then threatened her with a gun. So, she was held up inside the home with the child and the call went out to us, to the SWAT team, as a barricade incident with possible hostages inside. We deploy tactical people all around the location and negotiations were established, uh, inside the residence with the suspect over telephone.

I don't, I can't testify to the actual conversation going on between negotiators and the suspect. I assumed it wasn't going too well because we were getting together a tactical plan that we thought might have to be initiated quite quickly, because we were worried about the health of the, of the two hostages inside, because it seemed like the relationship was deteriorating, as well as, I guess our connection with him was also deteriorating. So, we felt that it was going to be time to tactically intervene. So the end result was an explosive entry was made at the front door. He was taken into custody, simultaneously we, uh, broke out and flash bang all the openings from the outside inside. We had narrowed down the location of where the wife and the baby were in. I was on that location where we made entry into that window, into that bedroom.

Actually, as we went in the window, he was coming into the, into the room it's because he was running from the front door. He saw us coming in the window and turned around and ran back the other direction and was taken into custody by SWAT people coming in the front door. So he was taken into custody. We, you know, when we rescued the child and the mother, and it was mission accomplished. But then again this wasn't the least, I guess, intrusive way of handling the situation. Negotiations would have been a better way. And I had the privilege of having to go to prison and talk to this individual who was in prison for that particular incident and find out exactly what went on between him and the negotiator, that he felt went the wrong direction and caused him to stay in and resist, our request to come out into peacefully.

And basically the, the most important thing that I learned from that discussion with him. And again, this was, I would say probably a rare instance where the actual person that we had the discussion with was not only not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I mean, he was totally saying could make, you know, I would think rational, reasonable decisions in a situation like that, even though it was emotions might get the best of them. At times, he had overheard a lot of the talk that was going on the outside of the inner perimeter that our SWAT team had on the location. We were pretty close to the location mainly because we were preparing to make entry into the location and it, you know, to, you know, to minimize the amount of time it took for us to get in, once the explosions and breaches started occurring, uh, we needed to be right up on the location.

MB : The problem was that people that were up by the location and the, and their houses next door, including the rooftops and things were snipers were on, uh, we're very, very close to this location. And the conversation basically, uh, had to do with, uh, SWAT officers, having their Christmas Eve with their families interrupted by this idiot that was inside this house. And the conversation went on and on about, you know, all the different things that they were talking about. And I was on that outside perimeter, although I wasn't engaged in the conversation, I knew better not to do that. There were people that were, and I overheard some the conversation and what he was relaying to me was right on, it was what was going on outside. He knew what was going on outside, and really what happened was he knew that there were a bunch of people out there that didn't really care about him, even though he had to negotiate on the phone, trying to tell him that we cared about them.

We had a bunch of people standing outside the house who were on the same SWAT team talking negatively about him. So, he's kind of torn with, you know, believing what this negotiator is saying and what he's actually hearing, in real time on the outside of this location, that kind of communication destroyed and heavy negotiations with we had going at that time. So, I can't really blame negotiators on that, but I learned that inside a nowhere in a debriefing after that incident, we were a professional leader, we debrief everything afterward. Did that subject even come up, nobody even thought about that. You took into consideration the fact that this guy could have overheard half the things you were saying. So that, that was a huge learning experience for me. So regardless of whether people thought this was a negative thing to talk to people, that was a positive thing that I took out of that conversation.

But it was definitely, even though it was a success when you look at it on paper, because everybody got out, okay, except for the suspect, got a little roughed up, you know, and injured from the explosive entry and things. Everybody was rescued safely, but a lot of things happened that didn't have to happen. And that involved, you know, court dates, lawsuits, you know, trials and things like that, you know, we all want in the end, but could have definitely lived without, and they could have gone either way. Some of them, who knows.

AD : No, Mike, it's a nice example of being aware of our surroundings. What messages are getting sent, are there mixed messages? If you have multiple people involved, the sheer capacity of that, or, you know, of that sort of an operation. Where it's not just the one negotiator on the phone and there's all these other things going on, how challenging that can be. Kind of a last question. I mean, you have volunteered as a crisis intervention counselor, you know, on the contact Caroline. [13:58]

We see today, you know it seems like more people in crisis, whether it is soldiers suffering from PTSD or it's some of the, you know, even kind of psychological effects of the last year and a half with COVID and, and folks having been kind of in, you know, in lockdown and some stuff quarantined. So, I might, my sense is that, we're going to, some of us in our day-to-day life, whether it's in business or personal life, or wherever we're at are, are probably interacting with people, you know, maybe not full-blown crisis, but maybe on the edge. What advice do you have for us for how to take some of the things you've learned over the past, you know, 30 plus years now, and say, how do I apply some of this in my kind of day-to-day life?

MB : Wow, so I guess the rumors out that I'm a wizard, I'm not. I don't know if I could do that one for here really. Well, let me say that I think, um, there's a couple things that you touched on that are important that I think we need to be aware of if we're in situations like this. Especially if we're dealing with the current generation of people right now, and I don't necessarily, I, and this isn't a negative thing to say about them at all. It's just something  that I see a lot in negotiating and, and, and in crisis intervention with, with, with people of this generation, whether they, whether they be soldiers, um, not so much in, in that line of work, as much as students and, kids growing up too. And they're entering the business world now, too. Now they're coming out of college, they're taking these positions and, and you know, whether they're in business or not, you still have to negotiate with them.

There's a thing that I see with this generation where there's not a lot of face-to-face communication anymore. You know, people are texting people, people are emailing people, people aren't doing face to face kind of stuff anymore. When that kind of stuff occurs, they have trouble communicating. They have trouble dealing with it. I think that is something that we need to be aware of when we negotiate with people. Sometimes it's, it might be easier. I think a lot of the crisis lines right now are putting out, putting together text lines that a lot of them have that contact characteristics as well, put a lot of emphasis on I'm doing suicide prevention through texting, because that's what kids are comfortable with. I don't know that I don't, I don't like it. I think I do the best negotiation.

I think anybody would do the best negotiation face-to-face because then you can come across. If you're, if you are a sincere person or trying to come across as that way, that you're going to sell yourself a lot better than through a text and communicate a lot better. I think that's a problem with COVID. I think that's a problem with mass. We're not seeing people anymore. We're not interacting because we don't even get the face anymore. We don't, we don't see the expressions. We don't, whether it's just everyday day to day work stuff. I see it on airlines. That's why a lot of the fights and communications occur on the aircraft. We just don't realize how people are reacting to things, because they can't even see their facial expressions. They have no idea. They don't know how to deal with them or deal with what's going on properly.

I think people need to be aware that a lot of kids nowadays are growing up and now they're adults and stuff like that. And they were raised in an environment where they didn't ever have to experience losing. And I think in the military, that might be a big deal, too. Um, loss of life, loss of all kinds, loss of friends, loss of things in general. And in the real world, there are losers in the real world. Um, everybody doesn't win. And to step out into that environment as a youngster, who's never been, never experienced that kind of thing can be very, very difficult to handle. So you have to know that you have to understand that you have to realize that our crisis, what we consider a crisis is different than what they might consider a crisis. We might look at that and go, that's nothing. That's just, that's great school stuff. But to them, it's the end of the world. It's like life changing stuff. It's like decisions between life and death and stuff. And that amazes me sometimes to hear that, but I believe that it is in their mind.

AD : I think the awareness around communication modality is so important and I'm like you Mike, I would prefer, you know, face-to-face with someone, and I have to recognize that sometimes it's not feasible and sometimes it's not preferred by the other person by the other person, right? And so, um, I mean, if my goal is to be successful, especially as you're talking about, you know, people in crisis meet them where they are. I think that also kind of the, what you're saying about, what someone else considers to be a great loss and just show whether it's, um, give some grace there or sort of, you know, that's, it's that it's different than what, how I might quantify loss, and be able to, you know, to be able to appreciate that. So I think it's, I think it really is. That's very helpful advice.

Active Listening and the Power of ‘Why’ [19:01]

MB : One thing, I've always found that I get my most success, by pushing the question ‘why’ about everything. More than anybody ever talks to me about and asked me about. Or was it involved in like, ‘why did you kill your wife? Because I was angry. Why were you angry? Because she did this. Why does her doing that make you angry and keep going? Why, why, why?’ And figuring out what is the actual source of what's going on here, because that's what we have to get a hold of. And that's where you're going to grab your hooks from too, like we talked about earlier. So, I think in any situation, any kind of crisis, you assume that people are telling you the truth when they're talking to you. And then, that whatever they're going through in life is a crisis to them. Then you, you need to get to the root of why that is a crisis, and that's the way you fix it. You don't deal with, you know, what's sitting there right in front of you, you go backwards and find out what caused it in the first place and, and deal with that part. And that's how you fix it. So I have always, no matter how trivial things might seem to me, you know, that people talk about them thinking, to the back of my mind thinking, ‘why would you want to kill yourself over there? Why?’ And then I’m thinking, well, it doesn't really matter to me what my opinion is about it is I want to know why they want to do it. And I want to know, all the steps that got them to where they're at right now. So, I think that's a, that's a key to, to being successful in just about every negotiation. Right. I didn't, I just something I was thinking about there, I don't know how

AD : Really important on that note. I think that's really summarizes, you know, so much of this conversation and I, and I just want to say again, thanks, Mike. It, you know, um, appreciate you so greatly, uh, appreciate your work over the years. Uh, appreciate you reaching out, and joining us today. So, thanks for taking the time I'm going to pass it over to Nolan to take us through the wrap up.

NM : Yeah. So, appreciate it Mike. This is a podcast that is all about taking action, and it's really about helping others elevate their influence through purposeful negotiation. So, kind of wrapping up today's episode, I wanted to ask you, what's one key takeaway that you think that you could provide to someone who wants to become a better negotiator and with all the experience that you've had in negotiations, how can they be successful in business and life? You know, what have you, with negotiations.

Action Items [21:32]

MB : Uh, back to where I was talking earlier, Nolan about, you know, experience is the greatest teacher, um, obviously that sometimes is a haphazard way to go about learning something. If it's not that way, it's, it's the next best is role-playing. And I'm talking about even role playing you've got a big negotiation coming up in the business world at a contract thing. You role play with your wife, have her play the person, the other person, um, do your best to come up with worst case scenarios and, and see how you'd handle those. I would say, I think I read somewhere something about how these prosecutors would always take, in training that the position of the defense attorney all the time, and try to get, you know, all the best questions, the war, the things that you fear the most that you would hear from somebody, get those out there and hear them before you get in a situation, you have to hear them and be prepared to answer them.

And, and, and so I'd say always, I always, I know my wife would probably, if she could hear this, she'd say don't tell him that, but I always would play worst case scenario that I ever got in, because then I wouldn't be surprised. I wouldn't act surprised and I'd be able to move on and try to handle it. I'd be already prepared. The other thing, is to watch things like your podcasts to read books, I can't overemphasize. I can't at all about educating yourself, read everything. Read it, even if you can't even understand it, read it, put it down. Don't read it again, read another book, read everything on negotiation, read everything that everybody's ever written on negotiation. You're allowed to keep what you want to keep that you think is important that you think might help you and throw away what you don't, you know, and the author's not going to take it personally.

MB : He's not even going to know, read everything, go to every class, educate yourself. And that's what I did. And, you walk into a negotiation then armed with everything you need to, to win and to be comfortable in that negotiation because you've read it all. You can walk in there with a cocky attitude of knowing it all, but not show that, but in the back of your head thinking, there's no way in the world that somebody is going to trip me up on this one, because I've read everything, I've done my homework. And it's just, it's as simple as, you know, studying for tests when you're in school and going in and taking it and feeling good about it. You know, not feeling nervous cause you know, you're prepared and the way you get prepared as a read, everything, watch everything on negotiation, listen to your podcasts, listen to things that Aram says and stuff in his, in presentations and stuff. And, educate yourself, come with the tools.

NM : Yeah, I think that's, that's an awesome point, especially for negotiators as they work to improve their game. So, turning it over to Aaron for key takeaway.

AD : The importance of building trust, and the things that myself or others may be doing, uh, that may reduce that. I think that's important. And the other one I would take, again, just so many from today, but the other one, I love the intentionality in the review process and the willingness to really learn. And if that's something that crisis negotiators can, can do in practice, uh, that's something we all should be doing in our negotiations is what's working. What's not, and let's fix it.

NM : Yeah. I think my key takeaway from this episode was when Mike, you had said that you were able to really get at active listening, even if you were talking to a child predator, someone who you obviously weren't necessarily able to connect with before the conversation, but during the conversation you at least were able to connect with to get to some sort of, objective. And that was to so that they would not kill themselves. So, I thought that was extremely powerful and something that definitely tells me that I need to improve my, active listening skills to be able to disassociate like that when, when I need to. So, all right, well, Mike, thanks for coming onto the podcast today. Really appreciate you sharing all of your experiences and definitely we'll have to have you back later to, to bring out some more stories. ‘Cause I know we only touched on just, just the tip of the iceberg and I know there's a ton more that you'd be able to share and give us some great insights into. So, thank you very much for your time and to the listeners, appreciate you listening to this episode, we'll see you in the next one. Thanks. Bye.

Featured EpisodesWe host some of the smartest minds in business

Join The NEGOTIATEx Team.

It is our promise that we will deliver massive value to your inbox in the form of new content notifications, exclusive content and more. Join the team today.

    Contact Us