Argosy University Alum Scott Tillema Negotiates His Way to Success
Scott Tillema’s career has been a master class in human behavior.
Even before earning his B.A. in Behavioral Science and Law from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002, Tillema had completed an internship with the Madison police department and was on a career fast track.
“I’ve always been intrigued by what makes people tick, why they do what they do, and how different people respond in various situations,” says Tillema. “I think that curiosity—and the opportunity to serve others in the process—is what led to my interest in law enforcement.”
Just months after graduating, he landed a position with the Schaumburg (Illinois) Police Department and served as a patrol officer for nearly five years before deciding to take his career to the next level. He wanted to be a hostage negotiator, and he knew he’d need more education and training to get promoted.
“I thought about going back to school for two years before I actually did it,” recalls Tillema, who graduated from Argosy University, Sarasota in 2009 with his Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology. “I’d heard great things about Argosy, but the campus near my home in Illinois didn’t offer the masters program I wanted. After I met with an advisor, I realized I had options—including a blended course of study that combined online courses, classes at my local Argosy campus, and periodic visits to Argosy’s campus in Sarasota. For a single guy who was tired of Midwest winters, the idea of flying down to Florida for classes twice a semester was very appealing.”
Tillema says Argosy’s flexibility and blended class options were a key to his success.
“For someone who was working a job with unpredictable, inconsistent hours, flexibility was essential,” says Tillema. “That’s where the online classes came in. As much I prefer going to class and experiencing the face-to-face interaction with a professor and classmates, online classes made it possible for me to maintain my momentum as I worked toward my degree.”
As it turned out, just being enrolled in the Argosy master’s program provided Tillema the opportunity to achieve the career he wanted. Seven months into his studies, he was promoted to hostage negotiator, working with a regional SWAT team and the Schaumburg police department to diffuse hostage situations, suicide standoffs, and armed barricades. Tillema took classes year round and completed his degree within three years, all while working a demanding, high stress job.
“There was great synchronicity to the process,” Tillema explains. “There would be times when I’d study criminal profiling, for example, and realize I was applying that knowledge in real life just days later. The quality of instructors at Argosy was consistently strong. I really felt the people who taught me were invested in their students and really wanted to see us succeed.”
That connection with his instructors soon paid off in another way. Thanks in part to their recommendations; Tillema was invited to be an Adjunct Instructor at Argosy shortly after graduating. He taught criminal justice and psychology courses at Argosy’s Schaumburg campus for the next four years.
In 2014, Tillema was promoted to Sergeant, and now serves in Schaumburg’s Special Operations Division, focusing on prostitution, drugs, and street crimes. He’s currently developing a crisis communications and hostage negotiations class that he hopes to offer to other police agencies.
Last November, he was invited to speak at TEDxNaperville, billed as “a free-thinking conference that gathers the Chicago areas brightest minds together for a day-long exploration of ideas worth spreading.” Tillema’s topic: “The Secrets of Hostage Negotiators”.
“Talking one-on-one to a guy with a gun to his head is easier for me than speaking to audience of 750 people,” Tillema says. “I was pretty nervous, yet I was also aware of the irony that my topic was about communicating under pressure. Choking didn’t seem to be an option.”
Tillema told his audience that the strategies used by hostage negotiators can be successfully applied in everyday communication with a spouse, boss or coworker.
“Whether you’re trying to calm someone who is threatening suicide or trying to diffuse an uncomfortable situation with a co-worker, the basic principles of communication are the same and can be learned by anyone,” Tillema insists. “First, seek to understand. Learn what the other person wants. Also be aware of timing. You have to know when to talk and when to listen.”
Tillema says it’s essential to also be aware of your delivery.
“It’s not always what you say, but how you say it that matters,” he says. “It’s also important to never underestimate the power of respect. When you treat other people with dignity, you can often find common ground and achieve amazing results.”
Tillema, now married and the father of three, says that despite his years of experience in life-and-death negotiations, there are two people who successfully outmaneuver him in any conversation: his eldest children, ages 7 and 4.
“When it comes to getting what they want,” says Tillema, “they have a way of winning every time.”
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