Gary Noesner Q&A
YOU’VE OBVIOUSLY EXPERIENCED A GREAT DEAL OF SUCCESS IN YOUR LIFE. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT, AND WHY?
Of course my greatest accomplishment would be keeping my wife after my thirty year FBI career in which the family’s needs often had to take a back seat, vacations cancelled last minute, dinner plans interrupted, birthdays and anniversaries missed, soccer games unattended, etc. Beyond that, my role in helping raise and educate three amazing and successful children, now all adults with their own kids, is something I am extremely proud of. Concerning my career, I would say that my role in standardizing the FBI’s negotiation training curriculum, and thereby the entire law enforcement communities guidelines, and pushing a shift to the broad use of Active Listening Skills (Crisis Intervention) for hostage negotiators were the most impactful contributions I made. These initiatives really changed crisis negotiation in significant ways. Prior to this there was a fairly rudimentary set of bargaining skills that while appropriate, did not as broadly fit and equip negotiators with the tools they needed to be successful. We found that 90% of all negotiation incidents were emotional in nature and did not constitute a pure bargaining interaction as earlier taught.
LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS SMOOTH. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT A SETBACK OR TRAGEDY YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED, HOW YOU DEALT WITH IT, AND THE IMPACT IT HAS HAD ON YOU?
I suppose the biggest tragic event in my career was the infamous Waco incident. Of course, it was also a major setback for the FBI in terms of public confidence in the abilities of the organization. Following the incident in 1993, various examinations and reviews supported the approach that my negotiation team was taking and was critical of the heavy-handed tactical pressure exerted by other elements. Having so many individuals perish was not the desired outcome and it created a great deal of distrust toward the government that persists even to this day. On the plus side, the examinations led to an improved FBI crisis management response and an empowerment of the negotiation approach through the establishment of the Crisis Negotiation Unit, of which I was named the first Chief. The lessons of Waco drove all of our future crisis response approaches and that remains the case today.
DO YOU SET ASIDE “ME-TIME” IN YOUR CALENDAR, AND WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME TO RELAX?
Even during the height of my career I tried to make time for the family. Despite the occasional disruptions to family life, we always took vacation trips and spent quality time as a family. We bought a used motor home back when only old people had them, and would go away on weekends to state and national parks, an activity that our family retains fond memories of.
WHAT’S THE MOST MAGICAL PLACE YOU’VE DISCOVERED WHERE YOU CAN GO TO CHILL OUT?
My most magical place during my career was indeed those frequent camping trips where I could get away from the phone and the demands of the job. Now that I have been retired from the FBI for 15 years, I live at my magical place on a beautiful lake in SW Virginia. For my wife and I it is paradise and we are fortunate that all three of our grown kids and our six grandkids live in Virginia and are able to visit us often. I suppose the old saying fits, “if you are lucky enough to live on a lake, you are lucky enough.” We feel extremely fortunate to live where we do and have the friends and activities locally that we enjoy so much.
DOES PHILANTHROPY PLAY A ROLE IN YOUR LIFE, TO WHAT EXTENT AND HOW?
During my career I never had the financial reserves to be what anyone would call a philanthropist. My wife and I give modest amounts to causes that we believe in and we volunteer in a variety of activities that support the community.
WHO IS ON THE GUEST LIST FOR YOUR IDEAL DINNER PARTY?
The guest list for my ideal dinner would be former President and First Lady, the Obamas, actors Tom and Rita Hanks, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, comedian Jon Stewart and his incredible wife, Tracey Mcshane, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is without husband. I’d be happy to sit between Justice Ginsburg and my wife, Carol, and within earshot of especially Stewart. I suspect this group would make for a lively evening.
CAN YOU OFFER ANY WORDS OF WISDOM TO YOUR FELLOW THROOMERS?
For my fellow Throomers, we should all remember the words of George Eliot that “it is never too late to be the person you might have been.” Specifically from my negotiation experience, I would say learn to be a good listener. As Stephen Covey says, “first seek to understand, then to be understood.” I think that is good advice, particularly in the current age of extreme political polarization.