From Crisis Negotiation To Leadership Influence: Utilizing Negotiation Principles With Scott Tillema

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TBT Scott | Leadership Influence


Communication is an essential tool for productivity and organizational growth. How can you widen your leadership influence? Join your host Penny Zenker as she dives into a conversation with Scott Tillema on bridging the gap from crisis negotiation to leadership influence. Scott is an FBI-trained hostage negotiator and active law enforcement officer. In this episode, he shares valuable insights on how organizations can recognize opportunities and utilize negotiation principles to enhance their work. He also explains how he helps during critical and chaotic moments of people’s lives and maps out situations for clearer understanding. Tune in for clarity and a goal-oriented perspective on leadership and negotiation.

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From Crisis Negotiation To Leadership Influence: Utilizing Negotiation Principles With Scott Tillema

In this episode, we’re going to talk about communication as a super important part of be more productive because if we can’t communicate effectively, then productivity goes down. I’m super excited to have Scott Tillema with us. He is a top communication keynote speaker. He’s an FBI-trained hostage negotiator and senior associate with the Negotiations Collective.

He’s a nationally recognized leader in the field of crisis and hostage negotiation, training thousands of law enforcement negotiators across the country. Scott has developed a model for hostage negotiation, which is now being adopted by those in the private sector for use in sales communication and leadership because those techniques, I’m sure, are completely relatable and work. We know that they work. I’m excited to hear how these steps translate into the corporate world.

Scott, welcome to the show.

How are you? Nice to be back with you.

I’m excited to get into the juice of your topic here. First, how did you end up doing this type of work? Is that something you’ve always wanted to do since you were a kid or what?

This is pretty unusual. You don’t just sign up to be a hostage or crisis negotiator. I went to school for Behavioral Science and Psychology. I’ve always been interested in what people do, why they do it, and what they think as I became a little bit more sophisticated in that study. I’m almost interested in behavioral analysis and behavioral engineering. How do we get people to do what we want them to do? I started a career in law enforcement, and I was thinking, “How can I still take my interest in my education and apply it within this field?”

Law enforcement is so broad. There are so many different areas you can specialize in, and I kept having this draw to hostage negotiation. First of all, it sounded cool. There are some cool movies made about it, but at its core, you’re working to influence people to get them to do what you want them to do, which is a right, good, and very safe thing in very stressful circumstances. I had an opportunity, through my agency in the Chicago area, to apply to be on a regional SWAT team as a hostage negotiator.

With about five years of experience in law enforcement, I was selected to be on the team, which is probably a little bit early, but I was lucky to be selected. I was part of this regional team for about eight years. It was a terrific experience to help out some people in very critical moments in their life and try to bring some safety and calm to some pretty chaotic scenes. I probably became a little bit hooked on the adrenaline of doing this type of thing. As I was taken off the team to focus on my leadership role within my agency, I started having opportunities to teach and train about this.


Be confident in who you are, what you believe in, and where you’re going in life. When you hear something contrary to that, it should be interesting. Accept it, and don’t feel bad. Click To Tweet


As I got in front of people, I would have that same adrenaline rush being up in front of a big crowd. I said, “This is pretty cool.” It was a natural progression to continue to teach and speak about my work in negotiation. I learned that the same techniques of influence we used in crisis and hostage negotiation are valued and useful by people beyond us in this particular field.

As I started to meet people from sales, marketing, and leadership, they were very interested in how we get people to do what we want them to do. I’ve had some opportunities to teach and speak to those in the private sector beyond my world and formed a company called the Negotiations Collective, where we do exactly that. We teach and train people in the private sector on how to get what they want.

Don’t we all want tools and methods to be able to get what we want and influence other people? That’s the key to leadership. You can’t force people to do things and follow you. You want to influence them. I think that is an important skill that we all need to have. As kids, the kids are good at having their initial techniques of how do you influence their parents to get what they want, but we have to grow out of those very raw ways of doing it and have more effective techniques.

What are the things that you find that best transfer over? How do you map a situation? As you said, if you were to take a hostage situation, there’s high pressure. There are maybe severe time constraints that you might be working with someone. How does that translate into the corporate world to make some of these methods still work?

I think that corporate negotiators feel the same pressure. Maybe there isn’t life on the line, but they know that there’s a significant deal to be done, millions or billions of dollars, and their job may be on the line. The jobs of others may be on the line. I realized that a lot of people in the negotiation space feel that same pressure. They know that they have to perform at a high level. I find that we’re going into these situations. They’re all very different and nuanced, and it makes it very specific to the situation, so we have to be adaptable and flexible.

If you go into these difficult conversations and you have a framework to help guide you through them, that is the most empowering thing. I’m not going in hoping. I got my fingers crossed that maybe the negotiator would be nice and give me something I wanted. Instead, I’ve developed a four-principle model to say, “When we go into this, these are the things that we’re focused on, and this is what we’re going to be doing throughout the conversation.” By knowing, I have a little mental map. I can stay very focused on what needs to happen. This is what gets us influenced by building a bond and connection through four principles. We then get to influence which is where we want to be.


TBT Scott | Leadership Influence

Leadership Influence: Hostage negotiation’s core is working to influence people to get them to do what you want them to do, which is a right and safe thing in very stressful circumstances.


For people who are reading, they can connect the dots here. I believe this. When we have structures and systems in place, it helps us to navigate difficult situations. It gives us something to fall back on. You’re saying that the person in that high-pressure place of negotiating and bringing that deal forward or that project to the next stage helps them lower their stress so that they can fall back on these principles. Is that right?

Of course, and the reason that this is important is we have to begin by regulating ourselves. When I do negotiation coaching, everybody always asks, “How can I control the other person?” At the end of the day, I’m not sure that you can control somebody else. It’s not a negotiation that either you’re in charge or you have to realize that you can’t control them. I say, “Let’s instead focus on controlling ourselves. If we can manage ourselves, we’re going to be in a position where we can start to influence the other person because at least we’re in control of that conversation a little bit. We’re guiding that conversation and not being held hostage to the other person who is in charge of themselves and now taking charge of you.”

We begin by having mastery of ourselves and our emotions. Instead of being overwhelmed, like having a goal of, “How do I free the hostages?” Let’s have small goals and say, “Our goal now is to build a bond and let’s get through the first principle, then we move to the next principle.” We’re working through this. Now, it becomes a little bit more of a manageable process to say, “Here’s what I’m working on. Here’s what I’m thinking about at this next moment.” We then realized, “This isn’t such a difficult and stressful thing.” We start to put that together and get the momentum to go where we want to go.

That makes a lot of sense. You said there was a four-stage principle. Would you be able to share that with us here?

I found that under pressure, it’s difficult to remember complex thoughts. I learned that during my first negotiation. I came in and I was trained by the FBI. I’ve got all this education behind me and I’m ready to go. You don’t realize how debilitating all that pressure is. I want to keep it real simple. It’s four words, and the four words are understanding, timing, delivery, and respect. My thought is if we can remember these four words, not only remember that these are the four principles we’re going to work from but their relationship to each other.

It’s not a linear process or a stairway trying to go up but I see it as a circle that these four principles form a circle and we go around and around. What that circle signifies is the bond that we’re trying to create with the other person because it’s found to be a big principle of influence if we’re likable to somebody. Having that connection, especially in emotionally-driven situations, can go a long way and help you get what you want.


Great negotiators not only ask good questions but can also do it while suspending judgment. Click To Tweet


I try to play the devil’s advocate and what people might be thinking who are reading and even what I might be thinking. How do you do that when the person on the other side is someone you don’t like? I’m sure in a negotiation, they might be despicable when somebody has done in the situation that they’re in. How do you get past that if you have a biased in a situation?

We will have biases and deal with people we don’t like. Especially in my role, we’re going to be dealing with people who’ve done bad and terrible things. My question to you is, what is your goal? Your goal is to reach an agreement, and that’s the purpose of negotiation. Why are you having a conversation with this person in the first place? It’s not so we can go out to dinner, share a bottle of wine, and start dating or fall in love.

The purpose is we reach an agreement. I don’t need to like you to reach an agreement with you. This is where ego gets in the way a little bit. We say, “I want to be right. I want to show that I’m superior to this person, I’m the correct one, and they’re wrong.” This is ego getting in the way. That’s not what negotiation is. We’re not trying to convince them to believe what I believe. You and I can have very different beliefs, and that’s okay because my goal here is for us to reach an agreement. Maybe it’s to come to a certain price so we can assign the contract or it’s for you to deliver something at a time.

Whatever we’re negotiating, the goal has to be very clearly in focus for us because if I can say, “This is my purpose. My purpose is to, in my role, get this person to put down the gun. My purpose is to get them to sign the agreement for training classes or a keynote speaking contract. This is my goal. It’s not about being right.” I think that a lot of folks get sidetracked to say, “I don’t like this person. I need to somehow prove that I’m correct,” and that’s not what negotiations are about. It’s about finding an agreement.

I’ve always felt that way and been able to ask myself that simple question. What is the goal here so that I can be very clear and focused on the goal? Not all that other noise that comes up and can distract us. That’s the first thing. The four stages are understanding, timing, delivery, and respect.

I think that with the first principle of understanding, the more different the person is from me, the more fun this piece is because my first little goal here is to try to understand the situation. I can’t solve the problem if I don’t know what it is. The more different they are for me, the more interested I should be. Again, it’s not that, “I’m voting for this person. You’re voting for this person. You believe in these rights. I believe in those rights.” We see it very differently. I know that I’m confident in who I am, what I believe, and where I’m going in life. Hearing something that’s contrary to what I believe or in a different direction from where I’m going should be interesting to me. The great negotiators become very curious here.


TBT Scott | Leadership Influence

Leadership Influence: Corporate negotiators feel the same pressure. Maybe there isn’t life on the line, but they know that there’s a significant deal to be done. And their job and others’ jobs may be on the line.


Not only can they ask good questions, but they can do it while suspending judgment because we’re very good at being judgy flip on social media. It’s our national pastime to point fingers and make fun of people and say, “This person is very different.” Great negotiators get people very comfortable in sharing views that might be different from mine, and it’s not about me. Understanding means it’s not about me telling you. “Let me share how great I am and tell you about my company, this thing that I’m selling, and all that.” It’s completely about you helping me get all the information I can because your power in negotiation comes from information and options.

If I can’t ask you good questions, read body language, understand gestures, facial expressions, and all the non-verbal, I’m losing the opportunity to gather information about you, your position, and your situation. The more information, the more options I develop and more powerful I’m going to be in that begins with understanding.

I would think that that’s the hardest first step to come over. It is because of the ego piece. It seems like that would be the bigger challenge. Briefly, tell us a little bit more about these other three stages.

We begin with understanding, and they all work together. The timing piece, this is your strategy to consider when are you going to deliver the message. I call you up on the phone, “Penny, I want you to buy this thing.” I’m not going to be very influential because do you know who I am? Do you know the benefits to you? Did I get you the time that you’re able to even have a conversation? Consider your timing because a lot of people have a good strategy. We’re so eager to roll this out and we blurted out. We can be missing huge opportunities for value if we have the wrong timing. Not only might we miss the opportunity to do a deal, but we could put ourselves in a much worse position.

I think that it begins with being a good listener and not being in a rush to get right to the making. There’s also a thing called The Anchoring Effect, which shows that the first number that’s put on the table is often the most powerful because we get stuck to that or anchor to that number. Sometimes if you come in with a lot of information and you’re in a stronger negotiation position, maybe your timing is, “I am going to put a number out there fairly early in the conversation and see if we can anchor my negotiation partner to that number.” The second principle is timing, which is the strategy piece in a negotiation.

Tell us about delivery. Now that we’ve got the understanding and the strategy of the timing, what’s the delivery? Is that the words and the way that we bring it across?


The great negotiators are very comfortable sharing views that might differ from yours. Click To Tweet


Yes. As a pro speaker, you specialize in this. How many people spend time working on the delivery? It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it. We get so stuck on the content. Here are my arguments, pitches, and proposals. We’ve got the content down. Everybody spends time preparing on that, but how many people spend time thinking about the delivery, rate, rhythm, pressure, volume, and tone of what they’re going to say?

I argue that we make decisions based on emotion all the time. We don’t make decisions based on logic and reasoning. As smart as we think we are, that’s not how we make decisions. If we can deliver it in a way that we are creating positive emotion and a good positive effect on the person we’re working with. Now, we’re starting to get them in a position where they feel good about us, like us, want to do the deal, then it’s almost a little bit hypnotic to say, “We’re getting them in the zone that we can get in a position where let’s start discussing this.” If you’re preparing, you’re probably already preparing your content. I challenged people. Even in pretty basic conversations, start to consider your delivery of how you are going to present, whatever it is you’re going to say.

A lot of people, typically in a sales environment, are used to doing some role-plays and practicing a little bit. When you shift into leadership and other types of roles that don’t see themselves in sales, they don’t focus on the delivery. They are focused on the content and they get in their head. I always find that even for me, as a public speaker, it’s perfect in my head but when it comes out, it’s like, “That sounds totally different.”

We need to practice it out loud is what I find in order to understand how we get to the right tone. As you said, the cadence and all of that and that that we’re translating what we intend and think is coming out that way. Do you have a special way that you suggest that people practice the delivery or something of that nature?

First of all, let’s be willing to accept feedback and coaching. Often, we don’t like getting feedback, especially the leaders in the high-performers are very confident that I’ve gotten to this successful place in life and I’m doing it because I’m good at what I do. If you think of the very top percentage of people, they all have a coach. Michael Jordan, the top basketball player in the world, had a coach working with him to make him better.

All these people are coaching. They say, “Let’s get you better.” For me, to not only be willing to accept it, if you’re willing to give me that coaching and feedback, to go solicit that and say, “Penny, you and I were in working on this deal. Tell me what you heard. Tell me how you felt when I presented this.” We can get this from our peers and our colleagues. I think that we’re motivated by fear and don’t want to bruise our egos. If we say, “My goal is to be the best whatever that I can be. How can I do that? I need to focus on this delivery piece right here. I want to be the best speaker.” It’s very relevant. Tell me about the delivery. How do you feel? How do you hear the cadence, pausing, inflections, and pace?


TBT Scott | Leadership Influence

Leadership Influence: We’re not trying to convince them to believe what you believe. We’re just trying to make them understand and agree on certain matters.


By getting the feedback of what you’re already doing, we can start to make minor adjustments, and then we can go deeper. Sometimes, we’ll do back-to-back listening where I can’t cheat and study your body language and I’m focused on the words that you’re saying in my presence. We’ll turn the chairs around, and now, you can do the non-verbal with the verbal. There’s a lot of practice on the delivery.

The most simple thing is to ask the people around you for feedback. “Give me some coaching. You hear me on the phone and talking to clients all the time. What’s my delivery like? What is my person effect? How do you think I’m perceived by other people?” That can open up some blind spots that can give us the ability to make small adjustments to make us even better.

I like the idea of practicing, role-playing, not looking at each other, and focusing on one sense, then on seeing each other. I like that little nuance.

We cheat all the time. We look for our information visually. Visually is more powerful than audio, I think. If we see it, we can believe it. I do some exercises to show how powerful the non-verbal is in my seminars and everybody always says, “I always believe what I see.” That’s an important part. When we take that away, now we have to focus on being a good listener and thoughtful in our delivery.

Tell us lastly about respect.

I think most people say, “I got this one. I’ve been raised right. I’m a successful professional, so I get the yes sir, no, ma’am, please, thank you. I get how to be polite and respectful.” I argue that respect is about emotion and connecting with people’s emotions. Make sure that we’re not triggering them negatively and we’re moving them with positive emotion to help them get to where we want them to go. There are three big components for me. Fairness is a big piece and emotion. You can trigger people’s emotions very quickly if they feel like they’re being treated unfairly. It’s important to try to work from a fair place and understand what fairness looks like to them.


Your power in negotiation comes from information and options. Click To Tweet


A lot of times, we run into problems because what I think is fair is not what you think is fair. That’s an important trigger. Autonomy is a big one, especially now. We’re coming out of COVID, where everybody’s been locked down. You can’t travel and come to work. You have to come to work. You can’t get vaccinated but you have to get vaccinated. We’re at a place where we want our own space.

If we’re being told what to do, sometimes people want to push back and react and say, “I don’t know what you want from me but I feel your pressure, so I’m going to push back to make sure that my freedom isn’t being impinged upon.” Maybe a third piece is empathy and seeing what it looks like to the other person. We’re almost in a generation now where everybody has an inflated self of self-importance, where you can go on Facebook right now and see the 28 things that this person had for lunch, then 35 pictures of their dog.

Nobody cares about you and your posts on social media but we all have it in our mind that we’re very important. Does the person feel like you care, connect, and have a true sense of appreciation of why they’re having the conversation with you in the first place? I would almost encourage you to say, “Where’s the pain right now? Why are you here? There’s a pain you are trying to solve and how can I solve that for you? What can my company, my group, or me offer to help resolve this stressful or painful situation to make life easier for you?

Within respect, there are a couple of different triggers that I look for that I try to press and avoid and say, “We’re being respectful of their emotions, which is where people make decisions,” and we work this circle. As we’re being respectful, now we go right back into the understanding piece. Are we hearing how they feel now? Have things changed since the beginning of this negotiation which might have been ten minutes ago? It might have been ten months ago. We keep working around these principles in unison. As we build this connection, we’re going to be in a place where we’re going to be a little bit more influential than when we began. Hopefully, that gets you to where you want to go in your next negotiation.

I’m a huge believer that communication is one of the most important productivity drivers because very rarely do we set out to achieve something on our own. It’s usually together with other people. It’s the fastest path to trust and productivity in my mind. For curiosity, I ask every guest this. How do you define productivity and why?

It’s more than being busy. We all think that we’re productive because we’re very busy. Productive is probably achieving an end result that is good for me and good for others. In the negotiation space, I want to make sure that I’m getting what I want. I’m not running a charity here but it’s also important that you get what you want. If we can both come out and be in a better place, we’re more happy and able to do whatever we each do.


TBT Scott | Leadership Influence

Leadership Influence: Understand gestures and facial expressions. The more options you develop, the more powerful you’re going to be, and that begins with understanding.


That’s being productive because now, I’m further ahead and you’re further ahead. We’re each in a better place. From a negotiation standpoint, that’s some cool productivity. It’s going to lend itself to probably great future opportunities for both of us together and potentially other spin businesses from having worked together.

Achieving an end result is good for me and good for others. It’s perfect. I like how everybody has their twist based on what’s important to them, how that definition is different, and I’ve never had the same definition in all the years that I’ve been asking this. It’s interesting. We’re at the end of our time. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you wanted to share?

I think we’re off to a good start. If your audience could take a couple of minutes and put that together in their mind, identify their next difficult conversations. We all should be having difficult conversations and think about how having this mental model could be advantageous to help them get better results, make that conversation a little bit less stressful, and help them achieve more in their life. We all have difficult conversations. We should be having these conversations. I think that it’s a success and great use of their time if they can put this to work in their life. I love hearing from folks who say, “I’m using this in this aspect or that aspect in different ways that I could ever imagine.”

More often than not, people come back to me and say, “This is so important for me and my work, but I’m also using this at home, in my relationship, with my partner, and the people I love because I want to have a deeper connection and bond with them, and this is how I’ve been able to do that.” I love hearing that from folks and connecting with your audience. I’m always active on LinkedIn. It is a great social networking site. For anybody reading, I would love to connect and hear their story as well.

What’s your website, and how can they reach you there so they can hear it audibly?

I’m at If you want a little bit more about what we talked about, you can hear more in my TED Talk, The Secrets of Hostage Negotiators, which is published on YouTube. I love to connect on LinkedIn if anybody wants to personally connect. Those are a couple of good ways that you can learn about me and my work.

Thanks so much, Scott, for being here.

Thanks for having me.

Thank you all for being here because you know that communication is key. If you want to be productive, as Scott says, you want to make sure that it’s good for you and others. That makes sense to me. That’s how we create progress. That’s how we get further. I wholeheartedly am behind that definition of productivity.

Make sure that you are thinking about that in everything that you do, and write down those four things on a sticky note so that you can come back and think about them in more detail. Use them throughout your day, understanding, timing, delivery, and respect. Use them as a circle as you grow through your relationships and interactions with everybody that you deal with. Thank you for being here. I’ll see you in the next episode.


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About Scott Tillema

TBT Scott | Leadership InfluenceScott Tillema is a top communication keynote speaker, FBI trained hostage negotiator, and senior associate with The Negotiations Collective.

He is a nationally recognized leader in the field of crisis and hostage negotiations, training thousands of law enforcement negotiators across the country.

Scott has developed a model for hostage negotiation, which is now being adapted by those in the private sector for use in sales, communication, and leadership.