How to Communicate When Your Life Depends On It

by | Oct 28, 2020

For many people, communication as looked upon as a soft skill. But what if lives depended on your ability to listen, to communicate, to influence?

Kevin Taylor is a former hostage negotiator who spent years negotiating in some of the most extreme situations – from kidnap negotiation to suicide intervention.

Kevin will tell you that when lives depend on it, communication is anything but a soft skill.

In this session, Kevin will share his personal journey to becoming head of the hostage negotiation unit for Greater Manchester Police, sharing some of his experiences from the world of hostage negotiation and making you think about how you communicate. You will never listen the same way again.

Kevin suggests the key to communication isn’t about knowing what to say but instead about how to listen.

When asked about how he got into hostage negotiating, Kevin explains that his dad died when he was very young, and he wasn’t very academic. When he was 16, he got a job as a mechanic and later joined the police. At his final interview, the Chief Inspector asked why he had never furthered his education. ‘I told them that I worked six days a week and had one day off to see my friends. The HR lady chuckled away and the Chief Inspector absolutely destroyed me over my lack of academic ability. He went on a huge rant about how people like me shouldn’t be in the police before sending me out of the room. When the panel asked me back in he told me that the other two panellists really liked me and that he would give me a chance.’

‘I didn’t realise at the time the damage that had done. I was asked after 2 years to take my exams. I put it off for years and years and instead went to work in the Traffic team. It was here that I did my first proper negotiation whilst two police officers were held hostage.’

‘When people talk, they give away a lot about themselves and about their values. A lot of the time we miss these values because we are listening for the things that are important to us. The first step is understanding yourself.’

‘Within your life you have to engage with people you don’t like, and you have to be able to communicate regardless without giving anything away. If you know that you do certain things when you don’t like something, or you change your tone when you disagree with an idea, you need to be hyperaware of these changes before you can influence someone else.’

‘Mostly in life we listen to respond not to understand.’

‘Within the creative world you instil your passion into the project you’re working on. When someone is really interested in a question their energy will change and they will ask it with urgency.’

When asked about what happens when you get a hook wrong, Kevin says that ‘it isn’t about not making mistakes, but instead how you recover the conversation from them. It is just as important to unpick what went right as it is to work out why something went wrong, you can learn just as much, if not more. ready to move forward.’

Kevin explains that there are six different modes of listening that we each move in and out of whilst listening to someone else:

  • Confirmatory: Only listening to confirm information you think you understand already.
  • Autobiographical: Listening out for values or pieces of information that relate to you and your own values.
  • Competitive: Listening to respond. If the other person has something good to say, you have something better.
  • Passive: When the voice in your head gets loud and you begin listening to yourself rather than the person speaking to you.
  • Reflective: Reflecting back and getting more information about them.
  • Combative: Listening for disagreement.

It is reflective listening that will enable you to gain the most from the conversation and learn what makes the other person tick.