On the list of plausible survival scenarios you’ll need to dodge in your lifetime, getting kidnapped is lower than just about anything else (including bear attacks or drowning).

Still, being able to escape a hostage situation isn’t a bad survival skill to have. Particularly in urban survival situations where kidnapping and/or hostage takeovers are more likely.

There’s no better man to take tips from on what to do in a hostage situation than … a professional hostage negotiator. Christopher Voss literally wrote the book on the subject.

What to Do in a Hostage Situation

Get to No

In our everyday lives, it’s likely we’ll be bargaining for simple things like a better car deal, higher salary, or who gets the last slice of pecan pie. But, Voss spent decades as a professional FBI hostage negotiator bargaining for people’s lives. His best tip on what to do in a hostage situation? Get to “no.”

He breaks down this and numerous other tips in his latest book, Never Split the Difference. Here’s the gist:

1 Get your hostage taker to say “no.” It seems logical that you’d want to be as agreeable as possible in a hostage situation; to always say “yes.” But, your opponent is expecting that’s what you’re going to say. Start from the other direction as it can take them off guard and ultimately open them up to talking with you. Consider: “Is it ridiculous to say that we could both get what we want?” It’s counterintuitive, but just getting your kidnapper to utter the word no can take your conversation in a more productive direction.

2 Understand where your opponent is coming from. There’s a difference between telling your captor what they want to hear, and genuinely making the effort to understand why they feel the way they do. Think of what they’re doing as a business transaction and not for what it actually is (a horrific criminal act).

3 Respect your captor. Along the lines of rule 2 above … to fully appreciate where they’re coming from, you need to respect them at some level. It might seem impossible, but it could prove the difference between life and death.

Curiousity.com provides one additional tip from the book:

Basically, you don’t want your opponent to say “you’re right.” It makes sense, if you think about. We’ll let Voss explain. “Whenever someone is bothering you, and they just won’t let up, and they won’t listen to anything you have to say, what do you tell them to get them to shut up and go away? ‘You’re right.’

But there’s something very similar that you could angle for: “that’s right.” While “you’re right” can signal annoyance or dismissal, “that’s right” suggests mutual understanding. It means that the two of you have come to a common ground — and even the smallest patch of common ground can be enough to start making agreeable terms.

Never Split the Difference is available from Amazon now.


Further Reading: What to Do in a Hostage Situation

If you’re ever in a hostage situation, knowing how to escape zip ties is another vital survival skill.