Words can set you free…

Dick Mullender is a hostage negotiator and expert in negotiation. His experiences in the field with the UN, the FBI and the Metropolitan Police have taught him the power of communication when it really matters. Here, he talks to Elen Lewis about the art of good listening and how we can all become better at negotiation. Dick will be speaking at Wordstock – have you booked your ticket yet?


What can writers learn from hostage negotiators?

This is difficult as I imagine the first consideration for all authors is to know their audience. If you are writing for a particular group (teenage, young adult etc) then you need to use the appropriate language.

This is much the same for negotiators as we have to consider who we are talking to and what language they use. Cambridge English may not be the best if you are talking to an East Ender. How the other person uses language is very important.

Arabic is much more romantic and expressive in comparison to English.


What is the art of good listening?

Good listening is the ability to concentrate fully on the other person. Select the right words: make a hypothesis as to what those words mean: test that hypothesis by stating your impression: listen to the response and evaluate: summarise to make sure you have it right. It is the most exhausting thing to do properly.


What three things can we do to become better listeners?

Stop asking questions

Let the person finish before you start

Stop trying to solve the problem


What’s the most terrifying situation you have been in, and how did listening and words arm you?

I’ve never really been terrified, but on those occasions when I have been in situations when I may get injured, all the senses become more intense. Sitting in a bar where an argument starts makes us all sit up and become more alert. In those situations where we need to protect ourselves and be prepared to act, everything is important.


What’s the biggest mistake in negotiation

Not listening and too much talking! Most people believe that they must do all the persuasion and that the one that talks most is always the winner. In fact the opposite is true. As we have no control over what comes out of our mouths, the best thing is to listen to the other person and let them trap themselves.


What advice would you offer those looking to become better at negotiation?

Don’t unless you have to, and if you do, don’t negotiate with yourself.

Always get something back in return, even if it is only an agreement for a future meeting.


How do beliefs stand in the way of good communication?

I do not believe there is such a thing as a personality clash. What is really happening is that the people concerned come from a different set of beliefs, and just fundamentally do not like what the other person stands for. In negotiating with a person who you do not agree with, your beliefs will get in your way and your emotions will make the negotiation more difficult than it needs to be. Understanding the other person’s beliefs will enable you to construct an argument, using their beliefs, that will meet their needs and get what you want.


What’s your day job?

Training consultant


What are your private passions?

Listening and family


What do people get wrong about you?

That I am really confident.


What is the hardest thing you have ever done?

Tell my father in law he should not continue on the Trailblazer walk.


What are you working on now?

Impact words and how to use them.


Tell us a secret?

Maybe on the day


(Ed – See. You’re going to have to come to Wordstock now. http://26wordstock13.eventbrite.co.uk/ )

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.