Teaching Online: Lessons from a Hostage Negotiator

Workshop Session 2

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Have you ever had someone misinterpret an email or text message, making them more upset than they were before they reached out to you?  This is a perennial problem for online faculty and students that we will address with advice from some unlikely sources.


Nicole Soto currently serves as an Associate Dean of General Education and Interdisciplinary Studies for Southern New Hampshire University's Global Campus. Before her role as Associate Dean, she served as Faculty Lead for Economics at SNHU, designing, teaching and overseeing undergraduate Economics courses. Nicole Soto earned her B.A. in International Relations and Economics from Tufts University, where her area of focus was on Economic Development in Latin America. During that time, she also studied at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Madrid, Spain. After her undergraduate work, she continued at Tufts University for her M.A. in Economics. She is the proud wife and mother of 4 children and active in her town, Winchester Massachusetts, including serving on the town’s appointed Finance Committee.
Dr. Kimberly Salgado has served as an Associate Dean for SNHU Global Campus General Education & Interdisciplinary Studies since May, 2018 where she has oversight of Humanities, Social Science, and Graduate Education courses and faculty. Prior to taking on this role, Salgado was an Associate Dean of Faculty for Business with oversight of Business Law, International Business, Project Management, Human Resources and Public Administration courses and faculty. She has been with SNHU since March of 2016. From 2005 – 2016, Salgado served as Director of Corporate Education for Gwynedd Mercy University, Director and Dean of Students for Central Penn College, and Director of Corporate Education for St. Gregory’s University. Salgado holds an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration, an MBA in Marketing Management from Western International University, and a BBA in Business Administration from Northeastern State University. She also holds a certification in Coaching from the International Coaching Federation, is a certified evaluator for ACBSP, and has coauthored with UPCEA leadership for the Hallmark Rubric creation of International Business Student Support Strategies.

Extended Abstract

We have all heard the statistic that 93% of communication is non-verbal.  While that statistic may not be grounded in reality, we do know that non-verbal cues and tone of voice can convey a lot to the person on the other end of our communication.  Given that, where does this leave communication that is devoid of non-verbal cues and tone?  That space is where online faculty spend most of their time, communicating with students in a variety of text-based settings, from online discussions boards, to emails, to even text messages. 

Living in a world mainly of text can make dealing with difficult situations that much more challenging.  Students often come to instructors with stress, fear, anxiety, anger and a host of other emotions that can impact their ability to be successful in the classroom.  Our text-based communications can respond appropriately to students and calm the situation.  However, it can often make the situation worse when executed poorly.  Without tone and non-verbal cues, our words must do a lot of extra work.  We also lose the benefit of the student’s non-verbal cues and tone, and words that would seem curt or indifferent in person become easily deliverable over email.

So, what can a hostage negotiator teach us about effective communication with online students?  What our experience has shown us is that expert communicators know how to adjust their communication for the situation they are in, and the medium in which they are communicating.  In this session, we take lessons from an unlikey source, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It (Voss, 2016), and find ways to apply them to the challenge of online communication with students.  We will explore how to:

  • Be more mindful of how we communicate by text
  • Diffuse tense situations in text-based communication
  • Build a sense of trust and respect in the online classroom



Voss, C. (2016). Never split the difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it. HarperCollins.