Negotiation Tips to Seal Any Deal

Hostage negotiator Suzanne Williams shares techniques on how to successfully negotiate a great deal.


14 July 2021

Negotiation Tips Suzanne Williams WomenIN

As an experienced hostage and negotiation expert, Suzanne Williams (pictured below) has seen it all. From working on high-profile and dangerous hostage situations across the world to brokering deals in war zones and on the high seas with pirates, Suzanne has mastered the art of negotiation. But it didn’t come easy. In an industry dominated by men, Suzanne rose to the top and is one of only a few female negotiators undertaking this type of work.

Suzanne joined our inaugural SS&C Intralinks WomenIN Forum 2021 for an exclusive fireside chat. Suzanne gave attendees an inside look into the world of hostage negotiation, diving deep into her experience in the field. She discussed gender diversity within her line of work and provided relevant, real-life takeaways to help the audience with their next negotiation.

Prior to the discussion, we sat down with Suzanne to learn more about her work and glean some of her wisdom.

SS&C Intralinks: Suzanne, you work in a field that requires an important set of skills. How did you first become involved in hostage negotiation? What types of individuals or groups have you negotiated with over the years?

Suzanne WilliamsSuzanne Williams: As a London detective, I became disillusioned with the help I was able to give victims of crime. A supervisor at the time recognized something in me and thought I displayed the qualities of a negotiator. After my initial training, I believed in it, I got it and I have been a hostage negotiator for nearly 30 years now. I consider myself very privileged to be doing this sort of work, and I now feel I can do more for hostage families and help them through an extraordinarily worrying time.

Over the years I have negotiated with terrorists and organized criminal gangs, less organized criminals, pirates (sea hijackings), illegal immigrant facilitators, extortionists and cyber offenders. I have also persuaded people that life is worth living as I have intervened in suicides and other crises.

For many, your line of work might seem very unachievable. What is your advice to someone interested in exploring this type of work? What sort of personal qualities are essential for this life-saving work?

I believe the training routes are mainly through the military and the police. That said, there may be security companies who train their staff.

I guess potential candidates have to be quiet, chilled individuals who are calm under pressure and can control their emotions. They need a mind of discovery although not tempted to rush to problem-solving. The qualities needed are good listening skills, patience and the ability to see the situation from another perspective.

Even though most of us will never become a hostage negotiator, we can all agree negotiation is a very important skill to master, especially in the world of business. What would you say are the similarities between your negotiations and the negotiation strategies undertaken in the world of business?

We can both make matters worse by what we say or do. We have to consider and plan our negotiation strategy and identify the stakeholders. Obviously, we have to work within the law and use aspects of it to our advantage. We both have deadlines to manage and relationships to build. I think it is important for us to recognize [the point] when we go from communication and rapport into negotiation. If the relationship is going to be an enduring one, then that must be reflected in the process of the negotiation. We identify concessions that can be used as reciprocity, and we have to work to deadlines.

Negotiation can be extremely nerve-wracking for most people as they just don’t know where to start. Are there any common pitfalls or mistakes people can make when trying to master a successful negotiation?

I would say the four important ones are:

  1. Not really listening and truly hearing what someone is saying with their words, emotion and body language.
  2. Lack of preparation. It’s important to research your counterpart, the issues and likely responses or expectations. Know your desired outcome and best alternatives from a researched basis.
  3. Looking at the situation from your own perspective, your reality. Always check out the other person’s reality. It may not be the same as yours.
  4. Have a cultural understanding if you are negotiating outside your own culture. Negotiation style does change with cultures and it is important to adapt your own style while remaining true to yourself.

A big topic of discussion at the inaugural WomenIN Forum is gender diversity in the workplace. We understand you are currently one of only a few female negotiators undertaking this type of work. How has that been for you? Has your gender made a difference?

Not so much these days, but in the early days, I always felt as if I had to overcome the novelty factor. There is a helpful myth that women do not make good negotiators. We are naturally nurturers, motherly, we collaborate and are concerned with relationships. Women often look for common ground, build coalitions and can be accommodating. All [good] qualities for negotiation and crisis intervention. I will leave it to your readers to judge whether we are better listeners!

Before we let you go, we’d like to ask you one final question. As we mentioned earlier, most of us will never be negotiating in the same circumstances as you, but the art of negotiation will always remain an important factor in the world of business. To provide some tangible takeaways for our readers here, what would you say are your top five tips for negotiating in everyday life?

  1. Fully research your counterpart, the issues, redlines and time frames. Try to cut down on the surprises and have a plan B. Prepare yourself.
  2. Listen to learn and understand — not just to respond. Do this by gentle open questions that harvest information and hooks. Seek to understand before you can be understood.
  3. Focus on interests, not your position. Sometimes we have to give up the right to be right.
  4. Our worldview is unique to us, it evolves from childhood, life experiences and culture. Be prepared to step out of that outlook, step into another’s shoes and see the situation from the other person’s perspective. This does mean that you have to agree, just understand.
  5. Negotiation is undertaken for something, not against someone. Collaborate to achieve the goal.

To learn more about Suzanne Williams, visit her on LinkedIn by clicking here.