Jeff Thompson

New York Police Detective Jeff Thompson wants you to forget everything you’ve seen in police dramas about freeing hostages.

No, it’s not the hero cop who busts in alone and bullies the bad guy.

The winning hostage negotiator is humble, kind, patient, does a lot of listening — and is almost always part of a team.

“It’s not like in the movies,” said Thompson, who earned a master’s degree in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Creighton University’s Werner Institute in 2010.

“We have the 80/20 rule. You spend 80 percent of your time listening, and only 20 percent of the time talking.”

Thompson, a member of the NYPD’s hostage negotiation team, described some principles of conflict resolution and crisis management during a forum Thursday in Creighton’s Harper Center auditorium. About 100 people attended, including many current or former Werner Institute students.

Friday evening Thompson will be presented with Creighton’s 2015 Graduate School Alumni Merit Award.

Thompson, 36, grew up in Queens, the son of a New York City firefighter. He joined the NYPD 13 years ago, not long after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Thompson became interested in mediation and conflict resolution because the skills were essential to successful policing.

“Every cop that’s somewhat successful uses these skills on a daily basis to not get hurt,” Thompson said.

He searched online for a graduate program on the topic and discovered Creighton’s.

He was drawn by its reputation, although he had no prior connection to Nebraska.

“It was based on academic rigor, but it was grounded in the real world,” Thompson said. “(And) it was primarily online, which fit in with my crazy police schedule.”

Since then he has taught conflict resolution to more than 20,000 NYPD officers, and to many others in law enforcement around the world. He has nearly completed his doctoral work, on nonverbal communication.

Thompson told his audience that much of what it takes to talk someone into releasing hostages or out of committing suicide is common sense: showing empathy, respect and calm, and actively listening to what people have to say.

Some of these aren’t typically associated with police work, but police must use them all the time.

“Don’t ever, ever call it a soft skill,” Thompson said. “These are the skills that save lives.”

But, he added, you don’t have to be a police officer to use them. They can be employed within a stressful situation at work, or to persuade a reluctant child to go to bed.

His down-to-earth approach impressed those who came to hear him talk.

“He distilled it down to steps and points that people can easily remember, to use in a crisis,” said Annette Allen, 61, of Sidney, Iowa.

“You don’t have to be a hostage negotiator to use it,” added her friend Kara Schwee, 30, of Minden, Iowa, a Werner Institute graduate.

“You can use these principles in your everyday life.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1186, steve.liewer@owh.com

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