Negotiating For Your Life: Tips from a Wrongly Accused Terrorist Hostage

We’ve all heard the expression ‘Negotiate as if your life depended on it’, and at some point felt like we were negotiating for our life. I had the pleasure of interviewing Alam Ghafoor, who literally had to negotiate for his life, after being wrongly accused of terrorist activities, hooded, dragged away at gunpoint and held captive for weeks.

I’ve interviewed and shared tips from hostage negotiators before, but today I get to share a rare glimpse into negotiating on the other side – from the perspective of the hostage or prisoner. I’m confident you’ll come away with some valuable insights about how to up-level your negotiations based on lessons Alam learned through his harrowing experience.  

Alam had been retained to revive a stalled high profile real estate negotiation in Dubai. While eating dinner with a few friends he was called out into the hotel lobby to speak to someone. Within seconds, his pockets were emptied, he was pushed out of the hotel at gunpoint, hooded, and thrown into a car to be driven off into the night. After being dragged out to the desert, his hands and feet were cuffed to a chair, he was punched in the head and met with a barrage of voices screaming at him in multiple languages and dialects.

To his utter disbelief, he was told he was part of a terrorist cell and responsible for the London bombings. For two weeks after that he was sleep deprived, subject to physical and mental abuse, and interrogated around the clock by multiple interrogators who threatened death in a variety of creative ways. He was repeatedly reminded that nobody knew where he was. He had dropped off the face of the earth.

At first, Alam acknowledges he felt hopeless, defeated and sorry for himself. He believed he was imminently about to be executed. He thought he might combust as his insistence that this had to be a case of mistaken identity fell on deaf ears. Then he thought of his 4 year old son, his mother with a weak heart, the impact on his family of being unjustly labelled a terrorist, and he realized he needed to change his mindset and his approach. He made a decision that he was not going to die on his knees, begging for his life.

Our mind can be our best friend or worst enemy. What we choose to take on board will either defeat us or help us survive. Staying in the fear and playing out worst case scenarios in our mind can be as bad as what’s to come. Alam decided that ‘whatever comes will come. Whatever the body can take it will take’. There were certain things he had no control over. He chose to accept those and focus on what was within his control. Then fear couldn’t be used against him as manipulation point.

Alam realized that while he was physically locked up, he still had control over his own mind. He decided to draw on his skills to understand people, including linguistics, body language, personality profiling, etc. to figure out how to get into the heads of his captors. He tried to goad them into getting him on TV so he’d be visible. He decided to use fear against them. He watched the interrogation teams to see who he could influence, how he could plant doubt, who he could play against each other.

Alam made it a point to watch, listen, and notice – to pay attention to little things that he could use to gain some traction. He made it a point to notice the power dynamics, consider how he could use ego to his advantage, how he could plant seeds of doubt. He asked questions, he listened, he probed. And after two weeks, he was finally released on threat that he better get out of the country immediately.

Once he finally made it home intact, he had to face an equally difficult negotiation – negotiating his mindset to overcome the PTSD and to come to a place of forgiveness.

While there are countless lessons from this experience that we can all apply to negotiating our daily lives, here are a few to kickstart your consideration:

  1. Your first and most important negotiation is negotiating with yourself to take charge of your mindset.
  2. Learn to let go of those things you can’t control and focus on those things you can.
  3. Tap into your deep ‘why’ to increase your effectiveness as a negotiator.
  4. Use the resources and information that are at your disposal and try to find additional resources that may not be apparent at first blush.
  5. It’s not only what’s said that matters in a negotiation, but also the non-verbal cues.
  6. Pay attention to the little things. Get curious about the other party. This will increase your ability to influence and persuade.

I invite you to dig deeper to find other lessons that you can embrace to negotiate your best life and get more of what you want, need, and deserve.

If you want to hear more about Alam’s experience, check out my podcast interview here



bargaining, know your why, Mindset, Negotiate with yourself, Negotiation

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