How the musings of a hostage negotiator can help me parent my children.


My favourite-ever radio show is Conversations with Richard Fidler. For readers who haven't had the pleasure of listening to it, it comprises an hour-long conversation between the host and one guest. And it is the Least Boring Show in the World.

I get really frustrated with talk shows on TV that bring on these interesting guests and then do nothing but make them do quirky things or try to get all chummy and cutesy. Look! I'm such good mates with celebrities! Often the host will ask a question and the guest has about six seconds to answer (if that) before they get cut off and another question is asked.

Conversations assumes that the guest has a good lot of something to contribute to the world, that the more time given to hear it, the better, and that the audience is intelligent enough to listen without losing track for an entire hour. The only TV equivalent I've ever seen was Andrew Denton's show (also on ABC. Don't cut the funding, please, Mr Prime Minister.)

Today's guest was George Kohlrieser, an American hostage negotiator who also trained as a priest, earlier in his life. I immediately loved him. Not only was he wise, eminently sensible and sensitive, he had a voice that made me feel melty. I wanted to go and get myself a hostage just so I could be talked down by him.

George also lectures in leadership and host Richard Fidler asked the most brilliant question. He said: "What do hostage taking and leadership have to do with each other?"

The answer, of course, is that hostage situations occur in more than just police emergencies. And of course, there don't need to be weapons involved. They can happen in work places, in families, at school. Wherever people work and live together, mini hostage situations can arise. The role of the hostage negotiator is the same as the role of the leader. It's his (or her) job to create a relationship with the hostage taker, recognise the actuality of what's going on and find a way forward.

Kohlreiser argues that all hostage taking stems from loss and grief. There is always a sharp emotional component behind what hostage takers do. Finding your way in to connect with the person behind the behaviour allows a solution to be found.

Oh, and guess what percentage of hostage negotiations are successful? Ninety-five per cent, that's what. (And I'm pretty sure George Kohlreiser couldn't have been doing the five per cent of unsuccessful ones.)

Before I listened to the program, I'd been talking with my husband about better ways to handle our ten year old who regularly takes us 'hostage' when we come up against him. He particularly doesn't like going out anywhere, and often when we have plans to go out and some little thing in the day doesn't go his way, he'll use it against us. 

"Well, I'm not going out if you're going to tell me to do that," he pouts. "I'm staying here. And you can't make me."

According to Kohlreiser's wisdom today, rather than get myself into a stand-off situation with a hostage taker, I need to be connecting with him on a deep level, listening to how he really feels, and then asking him a provocative question about how he intends to proceed.

I really recommend Conversations, and the good thing about it is that all the programs are on podcast. You can download them and listen at your leisure. I'm going to explore a little bit more about George Kohlreiser too. You can expect to read some reviews of his books in the near future.


To listen to the podcast, click here.

The gorgeous picture is from an incredible site called Ten new photographs, free to use, are uploaded every ten days. They are exquisite and a beautiful gift. I look at them and think, "I've got to write more blog posts just so I can use these photos."