by Simon Wells

Over ten years ago I was taught how to be a crisis negotiator. The image most people have of negotiators is of them dealing with terrorists or criminals trapped in a bank. However, the vast majority of people who encounter one, in London at least, are those who wish to commit suicide. The skills needed to deal with someone in such a crisis, one in which they wish to find a permanent solution to what is probably a temporary problem, are key to saving lives. Whilst it may seem extreme to argue that those skills are relevant to dealing with a non-compliant passenger, I hope to demonstrate that they are. In many ways the experiences I have had negotiating with terrorists and criminals were easier conversations and negotiations. I am sure that some airline staff would agree that dealing with irate or drunk passengers can be some of the most stressful situations they have been in. The following skills will help: planning and preparation, context manipulation, first impressions, listening skills and influence and persuasion skills.

Planning and Preparation Spending some time considering the types of situations aircrew may find themselves in, I am sure results in a long list of ‘types’ of people and situations. These may include the slightly nervous distracted passenger, the impatient business traveller and the angry aggressive drunk wanting to fight you or fellow passengers in order to be served more alcohol. The list may extend to a person suffering mental health issues, or a ‘terrorist’ attacking you in order to take control of the aircraft. If we spend a few moments thinking about what may motivate each person to behave in the way they do, we may arrive at a short list of motivations, although a long list of events that may have resulted in the action they are now taking. In short, we are motivated for reasons of affiliation, status and control. However, how we behave may be the result of many events.  During one suicide intervention, when asking the person why he was considering suicide, he stated, "I stubbed my toe this morning and lost my car keys". During the next five hours he disclosed the loss of a child, breakdown of a marriage and financial ruin – in short the keys and toe were the final straw.  In terms of terrorism, many debate whether ‘terrorists’ are mad or bad – yet most academics would argue that terrorism is, in the main, undertaken by rational people, albeit undertaking extraordinary behaviour.

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