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


Giebels, E. and Taylor, P.J. (2012) Tuning in to the right wavelength: The importance of culture for effective crisis negotiation. In: The psychology of crisis intervention. Editions Yvon Blais, Montreal, Canada, 277 - 298.

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Abstract: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
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.
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