A decorated former police officer and Canada’s most highly recognized hostage negotiator, J. Paul Nadeau spent 30 years specializing in hostage and crisis negotiations, homicide investigations, interrogations, polygraph testing and counter-terrorism.

Wanting new challenges, he now uses the skills he learned in numerous ways. He’s a business negotiations expert, keynote speaker and media consultant that regularly appears on networks such as CNN, CBC and Global. He’s also an author and in May released his first book, Take Control of Your Life.

Nadeau spoke with Go Magazine about embracing change, the importance of vision and action and shared some valuable tips for successful negotiations too.

GO MAGAZINE: What was one of your most intense or stressful hostage negotiations? How did you work to stay cool-headed in that situation?

  1. PAUL NADEAU: One of my most intense hostage negotiations happened when I was returning to Jordan in 2005 to complete a peacekeeping mission. I was on a 747 in Paris along with 350 other passengers when I discovered that a suspected terrorist had threatened to blow up the plane. The plane’s captain was trying his hand at negotiating with this suspected bomber and it was not going well. I slowly raised my hand to get the captain’s attention, without causing too much alarm. I told him that I was a trained hostage negotiator and asked if he would like me to take over the negotiation for him. I could almost see his happy dance when he said yes! I then sat down next to the suspect and asked him to tell me what was going on. After quite some time, he surrendered to the French police without incident.

As far as staying coolheaded, I attribute that not only to training, but also to choosing the right state of mind when under such situations. We all have the ability to choose our responses to whatever happens to us, even in stressful situations. Taking a deep breath and then choosing to move forward calmly, despite what you’re facing, is always the best approach. Practice helps. My focus was on the task at hand, and not on the outcome, and I believe this is an important key to success.

What skills are necessary to be an effective negotiator?

One of the most important skills is the willingness to let the negotiatee speak first about the issues under negotiation. A successful negotiator is an incredibly good and active listener, prepared to encourage the person he or she is negotiating with to disclose what’s on their mind. The experienced negotiator, once rapport is established, conducts an exploratory inquiry into the wants and expectations of their negotiatee. Be it a business negotiation, a life negotiation or a hostage negotiation, the same principle holds true in asking the other person to say what’s on their mind. Let them speak first – you’ll be gathering important information by doing so.

Everybody has the inherent need to be heard and validated. It is only after we get our negotiatee to open up to us, tell us what is on their mind and what they hope to achieve that we can then be able to negotiate effectively with them.

You specialize in helping businesses learn how to negotiate for success. What are some of the key rules or ideas that you always impart to them?

I have a very simple formula for successful negotiations that I’ve trademarked and share with my audiences. I call it PIER negotiating ©™ and it involves:

1) Planning (that’s the ‘P’ in PIER)
2) Entering the negotiation with the right intent (I) and demonstrating it through your actions
3) Making the right/best entrance and then being engaging (E)
4) Building the Relationship (R)

People will be more willing to reach agreements with you once they know you, like you and trust you. Building a relationship with your negotiatee is vital. Only after you’ve established a good working relationship with your negotiatee or customer can you move comfortably to ask for a commitment.

You have a new book out called Take Control of Your Life. Can you tell us about it?

We all suffer from self-sabotage at some point in our lives. Many of us listen (and give in) to those voices in our heads telling us that we can’t do something or that we’re not good enough or smart enough. This negative self-chatter has a way of altering our states of mind, and our subsequent actions and behaviors are influenced because of what we choose to believe. In Take Control of Your Life I provide guideposts on how to rescue yourself from self-sabotage and live the life you deserve to live. Each chapter begins with an interesting story, followed by corresponding lessons that I think everyone can benefit from.

You’ve been quoted as saying, “Vision without action is pointless. Action without vision is purposeless.” Can you please elaborate more on this?

Having a vision of what you want in life is wonderful, but it’s only the start. Having a vision without taking steps to make that vision a reality is pointless. You must take the necessary action to make that vision become your reality. For example, if your vision is to be fit, yet you do nothing to get fit, what good is that? It’s pointless. In fact, it’s likely going to hurt you because you’ll never reach what you envisioned for yourself. You’ll be left with nothing but an image – unless you make it happen.

What advice do you share with people looking to move ahead and find greater success in their own job?

With whatever career you choose, or find yourself in, give it 150%. Be the very best you can be, and you’ll naturally stand out. Be passionate about your work and go for what you want, be it a different position within the organization, a promotion, or whatever. If you don’t like your job, find one that you’re passionate about so it won’t feel like “work.”

Always doing my very best has allowed me to work in so many wonderful, specialized areas. You are the captain of your own ship, and it simply comes down to choice. Choose to do your very best. Make it a habit.

Throughout your career, you’ve explored many different career paths. What drives you to keep reinventing yourself and taking on new challenges?

Life is filled with amazing opportunities, many of which we create on our own. I don’t think I’d be happy doing just one thing for the rest of my life. When I see something that interests me, I go after it. I don’t want to be visited on my death bed by the “ghosts of missed opportunities” asking me why I didn’t go after what I wanted. Regret can be avoided. We never know what we’re capable of until we try.

What excites you about the new opportunities you’re presented with and embracing change? What future goals do you hope to accomplish?

What excites me is the challenge each new opportunity has to offer, the rewards that come along with them and the rush I get in making my dreams come true. Going after your dreams and goals is an amazing feeling – and even better, is achieving them! And if you don’t? At least you’ve tried. No regrets for having given it your best.

As far as the next chapters in my life? Currently, I’m focusing on having my second book published. I’m also writing a film script based on one of the stories in my book and I’m keynote speaking globally. I’d love to get into acting on a full-time basis or host a TV show on motivation, interviewing motivators from across the globe.

How did you last purchase insurance? Did you purchase online or through an insurance broker in person?

I last purchased insurance through an insurance broker in person, and I’ve been with them ever since.

J. Paul Nadeau’s official website is here. His Take Control of Your Life book came out in May. Find out more info about it here.

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