How Hostage Negotiation Works

A hijacker threatens Captain John Testrake as he leans from the cockpit of TWA Flight 847 in Beirut, June 1985.

A hostage situation is a law-enforcement worst-case scenario, because it places innocent civilians directly in harm's way. Armed intervention becomes very risky, since the hostages themselves can be harmed either by stray bullets or by the hostage-takers. That makes the negotiation the most important aspect of any hostage crisis. A skilled negotiator must find out what the hostage-taker wants, who he or she is and what it will take to achieve a peaceful outcome, all while ensuring the safety of the hostages and other bystanders.

Ideally, a hostage situation ends with everyone walking away (albeit with some of them in handcuffs). In this article, we'll find out what happens on the scene of a hostage negotiation, how a negotiator gets the job done and what it takes to become a professional hostage negotiator. We will also take a look at the psychology of hostage-takers and hostages.