Master Mediators: Belinda Neil

Belinda Neil grew up with the notion of joining the New South Wales police force at the forefront of her plans. This goal was eventually fulfilled in 1987. Over the next 18 years, she was a devoted member of a tactical response team charged with the task of negotiating with criminals putting the lives of others at risk, and one of the youngest members of the force.

As a hostage negotiator, many of her teachings run in line with our teachings on customer aggression and conflict management. But in contrast to the perhaps more controlled circumstances utilized by Jack Cloonan in Pt I, Neil was tasked with coping with such circumstances under extreme duress. Her discussions, even more than his, stress the act and expression of rationality and calm, not always an easy thing to accomplish in a hostage situation. It is the most extreme example of customer aggression out there.

Her emphasis, as related in this radio interview with the ABC, lies in the extraordinary patience which comes along with her career. Building a rapport with the hostage-taker, an oft-overlooked element of the process, is one that cannot be rushed. It is also likely the most vital: a hostage-taker in a stressful situation begs for that basic element of trust, for someone who can empathize with them. Provided the hostage is not in imminent danger, this process can be drawn out over the course of several hours, even before attempting to convince the suspect to alter his plans and consider the implications of his actions.

Her emphasis, and her successes, lay in remarkable interpersonal skills and a compassionate view of those involved in the peak of irrationality. There is a basic humanity in her ability to cope with her own extreme form of ‘customer aggression’. She sets a fine example for our domestic police force, and for a home-grown method of conflict resolution.

For more about Belinda, check out her website.

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