4 things the Ethical Warrior can learn from Doc Thompson

One of the most important aspects in the development of the Ethical Warrior concept largely came from the teachings of a great man who preached the concept of respectful communication


Basic verbal skills are being overlooked by too many police officers. Just look at the news: we see too many videos of fights we think would never have happened if the officers had been a more skillful communicators. One of the most important aspects in the development of the Ethical Warrior concept largely came from the teachings of a great man who preached the concept of respectful communication.

George “Doc” Thompson is an accomplished scholar, a PhD, experienced cop, and creator of Verbal Judo. His Verbal Judo techniques were developed and refined on the street. Doc passed away in 2011, but one of his right-hand men, Gary Klugiewicz, has polished and expanded upon many of the Verbal Judo principles through his company, Verbal Defense and Influence. 

As longtime readers already know, the authors run Resolution Group International (RGI), is an organization that embraces VDI training in its Ethical Protector Certification Courses.

VDI has a lot to offer. Here are the four things that RGI teaches based on Doc’s teachings:

1. Universal Greeting

•    Give an appropriate greeting
•    Introduce yourself and your affiliation
•    Give the reason for the contact
•    Ask a relevant question

For example, “Hi, good morning. My name is Officer Peterson from the Sea Lake Police Department. I noticed that your car is parked in a fire zone. Is there an emergency? Is everybody OK?”

If you are an experienced cop, you may start your contacts differently, but this is what we teach as a basic. It is a proven methodology that has worked for decades. Do it this way, and your chances of having an easily manageable encounter drastically increase. Skip a step, and you open yourself up for a distracting and maybe confrontational squabble. 

For example: “Is that your car?” They say: “Who wants to know?” “Why are you bothering me?”

2. Beyond Active Listening

•    Listen
•    Empathize
•    Ask to Clarify
•    Paraphrase
•    Summarize

The civilian says, “No, officer, no emergency, I just want to run into the building to get something. I’ll be right back.” You listen, then say: “I understand, it’s kind of a pain to park way over there in the parking lot. But there’s no emergency, correct? That’s good. So you just wanted to run in and get something. Do I have that right?”

From there you could (Universal Greeting, continued):

•    Ask for identification
•    Ask for more information
•    Make your decision
•    Conduct an appropriate close

You say, “What’s your name? Bill? OK, Bill, is there anything else I need to know? Because if that’s the whole story, I am going to have to ask you to move your car and park in the lot before you go inside.”

Bill: “OK, Officer, you’re right, I was just in a hurry. I’ll move it.”

You: “Thanks, Bill, I appreciate it. Have a great day.”

Do you really have to say all of that? You should, even if your script varies a little. At least make sure you cover all that ground. It may take a little longer than what you usually say, but it works well. 

Unless — of course — they start to argue with you.

Then, try...

3. Persuasion Sequence

•    Ask – Don’t Tell
•    Explain Why
•    Offer Options, Not Threats
•    Give a Second Chance
•    Take Appropriate Action

Bill: “I said, I was only going to be here for a minute. There’s no fire. I’ll be out of here in no time.”

You: “Right, Bill, I heard you. But I am asking you to move it before you go in. Just in case.”

Bill: “I could have been in and out by now.”

You: “Bill, you seem like a reasonable guy. You wouldn’t want to be blocking the fire lane if you got held up inside for some reason and there was an emergency, would you? Your car would be blocking our emergency vehicles from getting in here. We need you to move it now.”

Bill: “Don’t you have anything better to do? Stop harassing me.”

You: “Look, I’ve asked you politely to move. I told you why. So now we have a couple of options. One, you move your car—right over there to the parking lot—and you go about your business. Option two, I ticket your car and call a tow truck. That’s the law and that’s what I have to do if you won’t help me out here. You don’t want that, do you? Doesn’t it make more sense to just quickly move your car so we can both get on with what we need to do today?”

Bill: “Oh come on, give me a break, you’re not going to tow me for this. I’ll be right back.”

You: “Unfortunately, if you walk away you will get a ticket and you will get towed. Bill, I’ve asked you, I’ve told you why, I gave you options: a couple of good ones, but also a bad one — for you. This is your last chance. Is there anything I can say to get you to work with me today and move that car? I’d like to think so...”

Bill: “Oh, all right, I’ll move it.”

A little respectful and skillful persuasion has done the trick, as it does the vast majority of the time.

But, now let’s say Bill just turned around and is heading back.

“Forget it! Bite me, pig. I pay your salary!”

4. When Words Alone Fail
Even the fantastic Persuasion Sequence doesn’t work every time. People keep arguing anyway, or, they may even physically attack you. It’s time to stop talking when:

•    The Persuasion Sequence doesn’t work or is inappropriate
•    There is a personal safety issue
•    There is a threat to property
•    Something of a higher priority happens

Now it’s time to act!

It’s important to know when words won’t work and it’s time to do something. If talking isn’t working — you are threatened, property will be damaged or there is an emergency that you must deal with — then you must act. In Bill’s case, you will be giving him a ticket and his car will be towed. 

It seems simple, right? Well, not really. If done without sincere respect for the person you are dealing with, (not respect for his attitude or behavior, but for his life as a human being), respectful communication techniques are just techniques, not negotiating skill. Just reading the script above may come out forced or sarcastic or disrespectful. It is also not easy to do under stress. Success comes from your presence, your tone and your sincerity. It comes from how you say things as much as from the things you say.

Veteran NYPD trainer, hostage negotiator and RGI associate James Shanahan describes the two extremes of how two kinds of cops can handle a “situation.”

1.    One cop can talk a foaming-at-the-mouth rabid dog off a meat truck.
2.    Another cop could show up at the scene of the blessed nativity and end up splitting somebody’s head open.

Where do you fall between cop #1 and cop #2? Again, respectful communication tactics may seem like a lot of trouble to go through just to get someone to move their car, but they will make your day easier and may keep your agency from getting complaints. They might even keep a real bad guy from having an excuse to fight you.

In any case, the VDI respectful communication tactics are great for new folks on the force—and worth a review by the veterans. 

About the author

Jack E. Hoban is president of Resolution Group International and a subject matter expert for the U.S. Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. Bruce J. Gourlie is a Federal Law Enforcement Officer and a former U.S. Army infantry officer.

Correspondence can be sent to both authors by emailing Hoban & Gourlie.

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