Tuning in to the right wavelength: The importance of culture for effective crisis negotiation

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


    Over the last decade, the cultural diversity of those who perpetrate hostage incidents has increased dramatically. In this chapter, we examine key cultural differences in communication behavior and the implications of such differences to negotiation practice. We begin by illustrating the importance of culture to negotiation behavior and by introducing two distinctions that underpin modern understanding of how people from different cultures think and link this to fundamental differences in communication. Drawing on these distinctions, we then present seven ‘lessons’ that are designed to highlight and prepare negotiators for common cross-cultural misunderstandings: 1. Building rapport and obligatory reciprocity 2. Group membership and individual rights 3. Role differences and authority 4. Honor and face issues 5. The involvement of third-parties 6. The use of logic and rationality 7. Ultimatums 277 Our evaluation seeks to draw out lessons for those wishing to develop their understanding of cross-cultural communication dynamics, and we provide examples from negotiation transcripts and (police) interviews concerning interaction with law enforcement and cultural issues to illustrate key points. A factor that is becoming increasingly prevalent for crisis negotiators is the cultural background of perpetrators. In both North America and Europe, law enforcement organizations have reported a growth in the cultural diversity of perpetrators, particularly in extortion and kidnap incidents (Giebels & Noelanders, 2004; Ostermann, 2002; Taylor&Donohue, 2006). This has inevitably meant that police negotiators and incident commanders face an even more complex interpersonal challenge when they engage in dialogue. Alongside the usual challenges, they must decipher the behavior of somebody whose cultural schema and way of responding to the actions of others is not the same as their own. They must repeatedly address the question: “is this behavior by the perpetrator something to raise our concerns, or is it something that is to be expected from their culturally- driven way of interacting?” In these conditions, police negotiators (and everyone else) can feel less confident about making appropriate inferences and judgments about a perpetrator’s behavior (Giebels & Taylor, 2009). This chapter reviews what is known about cross-cultural interactions in an effort to deliver a better understanding of the kinds of dynamics to expect from such crises. It begins by outlining the importance and impact of culture to the crisis negotiation context. Although there is an indefinite number of different cultures to describe, we will focus on differences between Western and non-Western cultures. We discuss two primary cultural dimensions (collectivism and power distance) and one communication-related dimension (high-context versus low-context communication) and convert these into seven key areas that negotiators should consider when dealing with perpetrators from different cultural backgrounds. They concern both direct communications, in terms of relationship and content, the context in which these negotiations occur (involvement of other parties) as well as issues touching upon the underlying motivations of the perpetrators involved (face issues). Thus, each of these areas combines communicative and cognitive differences that provide a richer understanding of the differences that accompany a perpetrator’s culture.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe psychology of crisis intervention
    Place of PublicationMontreal, Canada
    PublisherEditions Yvon Blais
    Publication statusPublished - 2012

    Publication series

    PublisherEditions Yvon Blais


    • IR-80827
    • METIS-290819


    Dive into the research topics of 'Tuning in to the right wavelength: The importance of culture for effective crisis negotiation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this