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Interview with J. Paul Nadeau

J. Paul Nadeau’s experiences as a former hostage negotiator, police detective and international peacekeeper have taught him that we are all more alike than we are different. In this interview, he explains what’s needed to be a great negotiator, how to stay cool-headed in stressful situations, and why it’s really not so difficult to have compassion.

By treating others with compassion and understanding, what aspects of your life have been affected?

I chose a career in law enforcement. That meant that I dealt with many situations involving crisis and danger. I discovered that when I treated people the way that I wanted to be treated myself, the outcome was always far much better. So much so that that approach to dealing with people saved my life more than once. This approach saved my life in the Middle East when I was about to be killed by terrorists. Not only did this approach work in my professional life, it also worked in my personal life. It’s a recipe for success.


That said, treating others with compassion is often easier said than done; which are the most difficult challenges have you had to face when trying to act with compassion, and how did you overcome them?

I would have to disagree with the statement that it is far easier said than done. Why should it be so difficult? The problem is, as I see it, that we simply need to remind ourselves to separate a person’s actions from who they really are, deep down inside. For example, if a person has wronged us, we tend to focus more on the wrongdoing than we do on the person and how we can mend the broken bridge. We need to put the wrongdoing aside at first to establish rapport and connection and open dialogue. In this way the other person is more willing to listen and we are both more willing at reaching understanding.


What skills are needed to be a good negotiator?

Active listening skills are by far one of the best skills a hostage negotiator can have. That sprinkled with patience and focus. People in crisis, a hostage taker for example, can be very confused and uncertain. As in any type of conflict, one of the best things to allow a person to do is to let them talk without interruption. And when I talk about “active” listening, that in no way involves thinking about what you’re going to say next. It is really about being in the moment with the other individual to let them express themselves so that you are then in a better position to help them.


Can you give some tips for how to stay cool-headed in stressful situations?

I certainly can. Slow things down. Take deep breaths and be open and honest. If you need a moment with the person you are in conflict with, say so. There’s nothing wrong in saying something like, “I really want us to resolve this but I need just a few moments here to catch my breath. I want us to work this out.”

Recognize that you must remain in control of your own emotions if you hope to resolve the situation amicably. Don’t rush anyone or dismiss how they feel. Understand that the person across from you is more similar to you than they are different. Ask yourself how you would like to be treated by the other person, then treat the other person accordingly.


What do you gain personally from being a public speaker?

For me, it’s spreading a good message and helping others. What a wonderful feeling it is to share your years of experience and knowledge with someone who can then immediately use it to help improve their present and future circumstances. I get such joy of sharing my stories and the lessons that I learned from my stories with others and then hear how they were able to use it to their benefit. That is such a reward.


Who or what inspires/motivates you to do your best?

I motivate myself. My inspiration comes from hope and belief in myself, my vision and my aspirations. I remind myself that I have a choice every day to be happy or to be sad, to be kind or to be cruel. I know that only by working hard and remaining focused can I succeed in life, love and profession, and I act accordingly. I’m also inspired by the stories of other people who have faced challenges in their lives only to choose to overcome whatever obstacles were in their way and succeed. I love motivational stories! They help motivate me immensely.

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