Negotiating Power through Tag Questions in Crisis Negotiations
Rubin, Gabriela Beyatriz
Crisis negotiation is a unique form of law enforcement–civilian interaction, as the crime is ongoing at the time of the exchange. Consequently, crisis negotiators have the opportunity to positively influence the outcome of the incident. In order to accomplish this, negotiators must both manage the dynamic power relations and build rapport with the subject. In this paper, I explore the use of tag questions in crisis negotiations to simultaneously minimize power asymmetries and build rapport with the subject in order to exert influence over the subject and bring the crisis incident to a non-violent conclusion.To identify the specific functions that tag questions fulfill in the pursuit of these overarching goals, I apply Holmes’ (1995) taxonomy of tag questions to negotiators’ tag questions from five different crisis incidents. Holmes (1995) divides tag questions into four types: modal, facilitative, softening, and challenging. Focusing primarily on facilitative and softening tag questions, I take an Interactional Sociolinguistic approach to ascertain what discursive functions the facilitative and softening tag questions are fulfilling for the negotiators in each incident. I supplement my analysis of the discourse of the five crisis incidents with five subject matter expert interviews in order to ground my research in the experiences of career FBI negotiators.I find that in instances where the negotiator and the subject both perceive the negotiator as the more powerful interlocutor, facilitative and softening tag questions are valuable discursive tools for: 1) reinforcing a ‘collaborative problem solving’ frame (Tannen & Wallat, 1993) minimizing the significance of the subject’s negative actions, and 3) turning orders into requests to influence the subject’s decision-making. The successful use of tag questions for these purposes allows the negotiator to appear empathic while maintaining control of the overall situation. However, I find that in situations where the subject perceives himself or herself as more powerful than the negotiator, tag questions are a less effective tool. The results of this study contribute to ongoing research in linguistics regarding the relationship between power and tag questions and offer insights to crisis negotiators into how linguistic tools can be used to accomplish their goals.
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