Have You Heard of Verbal Judo?

A Powerful Communication Skill to Engage People Through Empathy & Minimize Conflict

by Edgar R. Olivo

Have you ever found yourself frustrated when trying to communicate something, but are unable to clearly state what you mean? Whether it is at work, with a loved one or someone else, communicating sometimes can go wrong. Imagine using your words to defuse situations, create solutions, and make others feel heard. Now, imagine using your words to create the opposite effect. Do you see how powerful communication is in our everyday life?

Verbal Judo is a book about a communication concept that helps you avoid arguments and still get what you want by using soft skills. This technique is used by many professionals, leaders and law enforcement officers who need to utilize communication skills to resolve disputes without raising your voice or getting into an argument.

I recently spoke with Sergeant Dan Collins of the Arizona State Highway Patrol about his 17-year career practicing Verbal Judo concepts in his line of work. He adds, “How you say something, what you say and the way you present yourself can be the key to avoid forceful interventions.” He recommends professionals should focus on building their communication skills as a fundamental way to project professionalism through empathy and develop better relationships with others.

The idea of verbal judo was created by George J. Thompson in the early ʼ90s. His background in English literature and as a police officer helped him create a communication concept that can be compared to martial arts for your words. He believes that you should respond instead of react when you are communicating with others. Thompson’s interest in de-escalation remains relevant today due to issues that still affect our communities and workplaces.

Here are eight big ideas Verbal Judo highlights to help us improve the way we resolve, defuse and listen to others.

Big Idea #1: Communicating effectively in difficult situations is an art form that can be studied and learned. Like any other soft skill, communication is a muscle that can be strengthened over time. The key is to learn from situations you have found yourself in where you feel like you did not communicate effectively. Ask yourself, “What happened there and how can I learn from it?” For verbal judo to work, you must start by looking within for opportunities to grow.

Big Idea #2: Avoid direct orders and condescension, and always explain the rules you’re enforcing. Verbal Judo requires us to avoid ordering people as well as explaining the rules of engagement with others. The next time you need someone to do something for you, try explaining the benefits of what you are requesting from the other person, instead of using de facto authority, such as “the rules are the rules.” You should actively explain why a certain rule is in place and how it serves the other person.

Another example is instead of asking someone to “come here,” you should ask them if they have a moment. This is more polite and does not make the other person feel threatened.

Big Idea #3: Good communication means understanding where the other person is coming from. Empathy is a great tool that helps us have good communication. Empathy is crucial for successful relationships. In short, empathy is the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes and adopt their perspective. Without it, you cannot build strong relationships with anyone.

Big Idea #4: Paraphrasing is another powerful tool, but it requires an interruption. There are times when you may need to interrupt someone while they are speaking, especially when a lot of information is being shared. Paraphrasing is a powerful way to ensure that you have listened to what the other person said and are trying to understand them. Try to be tactful in the way you approach this tactic, especially if you are speaking with someone who is emotionally sensitive. Politeness is key for this to work.

Big Idea #5: To bring your communication to the next level you need to identify your flaws. To be a successful communicator in high-pressure situations requires skill and practice. These skills go beyond the basics of communication and are learned through experience and training. It takes commitment to become an effective communicator in stressful situations. Be open to exploring your flaws and develop goals to help you grow.

Big Idea #6: What you say matters as much as how you say it. Misunderstandings will occur. In order to avoid this, you need to be precise with your language. Think about what you want to say before you say it. If it helps, try writing your message before having a difficult conversation. You should also be aware of your body language and tone. You can demonstrate a lot of respect to others by adapting your tone accordingly.

Big Idea #7: Mediation can defuse stressful and dangerous situations. This technique involves rationalizing and laying out the facts and options with someone who is being difficult. If you find yourself having to resolve a conflict, try stating what you know of the situation and find a way to agree to some options for resolving the matter. Verbal Judo recommends being in control of the outcome by using your words to bring logic in most situations. If the situation is too dangerous, then consider your safety first and remove yourself until the environment is safe to return.

Big Idea #8: Domestic disputes are inevitable, but they can be directed toward productive ends. One of the main causes for conflict is making incorrect assumptions about your partner(s). Assumptions can lead to many communication issues with your co-workers or loved ones. The best way to avoid making assumptions is to ask questions and seek clarification when you do not understand what someone else means. If you are able to engage in conflict in a loving manner, it will give your partner an opportunity to see how committed you are to a harmonious relationship. The key here is to turn the situation into a dialogue instead of an argument.

These Verbal Judo concepts have helped many executives improve their communication styles across many different industries and situations. As the book teaches, good communication requires empathy. As leaders, we should always strive to de-escalate tense situations and utilize dialogue to motivate, or discourage, voluntary compliance to resolve everyday conflicts.

If you are interested in joining our entrepreneur group to learn more, sign up for our bi-weekly Business Energizers! We discuss strategies, goals, and resources in a virtual mastermind setting. The Business Energizers are held every other Monday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. You can register for free by visiting www.ccbsfoundation.org.

EDGAR RAFAEL OLIVO is a bilingual business educator, economic advisor and contributor for several media outlets. He’s a nonprofit executive who is passionate about education. He is certified in finance and data analytics and holds a business degree from Arizona State University.

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