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Myth Busting!

Myth Busting with a former Hostage Negotiator, Richard Mullender.

After military service and time in the private sector, Richard Mullender joined the Metropolitan police. He worked as a detective investigating serious crimes. Then one life-changing day he trained to become a hostage negotiator.

His skills were so well regarded that he was appointed Lead Trainer at Scotland Yard’s National Hostage and Crisis Negotiation Unit.

We’re not at liberty to tell you Mullender’s full activities in defence of British subjects abroad. However he was part of the team that negotiated the high-profile release of three UN workers held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2004. And Mullender’s listening expertise contributed to the intelligence that informed the rescue of Norman Kember in Iraq in 2006.

This article looks at Mullenders top five myths and and his take on them.

To listen with fresh ears and an open mind we need to strip away unhelpful inherited wisdom. Mullender believes these five widely-held communication myths prevent us from really hearing.

Myth 1 –  Body language tells (almost) all.

The majority of our communication is non-verbal.

Next time you’re watching TV, try this experiment. Turn off the sound. Can you follow the story? Do you know what’s going on?

Do you understand the relationships between the characters?

Mullender’s message:

What you say, coupled with the tone you use, are the most important elements of any conversation.


Myth 2 – I’m in control of what I say.

If not, there’s something wrong with me.

If you try and control all you say, you end up speaking painfully slowly. It’s not sustainable and everyone knows you’re measuring each word. When you speed up, you can’t help but let your guard down. Think Tony Blair being interviewed mid-morning by a friendly Fern Britton on the Iraq weapons of mass destruction debate. Blair didn’t mean to say, ‘I would have invaded Iraq anyway.’ But he did.

Mullender’s message:

If you can keep me talking, there’s a good chance I’ll tell you more than I mean to.


Myth 3 – Active listening is everything

All I need to do is to be a good listener.

Active listening is listening with your full attention. It’s a vital skill. But it’s only half the story. Without the know-how to decipher the subtext – to pinpoint the values and beliefs that drive the speaker – your understanding will always be limited. If you’ve ever been asked back for coffee, you’ll know that interpretation is all.

Mullender’s message:

Equip yourself with the tools to recognise what a speaker is subconsciously giving away. You’ll take your listening to light speed.


Myth 4 – Tough questioning reveals answers

If I ask enough clever questions I’ll get the full story.

Be careful what you want, you might just get it. An answer to your precise question that is. But beware, questions can lead you up the garden path. Because your line of questioning not only betrays your intentions, it can limit your investigations from the outset.

Q. What did you do at the weekend?

A. I saw a movie.

Q. What did you see? Who was in it? Who did you go with?

Result? You have no idea know how they spent their weekend.

Only how they spent two hours of it.

Mullender’s message:

Ask one question, then use minimal prompts to keep your fellow conversationalist talking.


Myth 5 – Empathy is essential

If I imagine myself in her shoes, I’ll understand how she’s feeling.

Really? Some years ago a leading psychologist gave Mullender a game-changing insight. What we imagine to be empathy, she said, is at best an illusion, and at worst sheer arrogance. Yes, she agreed, to reach out to another person is commendable. But to imagine that we can have any appreciation of the traumas, joys, disappointments, victories and defeats that have brought someone to this moment in their lives, is delusional. So, when you find yourself saying, ‘If I was you, I’d do this’ you’ll be right. But only if you’re looking in the mirror.

Mullender’s message:

Don’t give advice based on ‘empathy’. Instead reflect your companion’s values and beliefs. That way, you’ll help them reach a solution that works for them.


Richard Mullender will be delivering his sought after and in high demand one-day Communication Masterclass at the RDC Virtual Coach Academy on Tuesday 22nd July. At just £199 this is a day not to be missed and will be something you will remember for a very long time. Click here for more information on this workshop