“Diplomacy is the velvet glove that cloaks the fist of power.” – Robin Hobb.
Whenever I discuss developing the verbal and mental agility to out talk our opponents I feel compelled to stress that we are only talking so as to achieve a strategic objective. We’re verbally engaging because our preloaded responses weren’t as effective as needed. We have to step it up to the next level and proactively de-escalate or deter our opponent(s) but never forget when it’s time to act; shut up and make your move. You can’t keep drawing lines in the sand. One of the things that makes your verbal skills authentic is your willingness to act once you know the time for talk is over. By all means talk until it’s time to not talk, but once it’s time to act, act with audacity. So with that out of the way, let’s move deeper into verbal skills.
Ask. Tell. Make. There is an old axiom in law enforcement and protection services; Ask, tell, make. It goes something like this, we always start an engagement by asking for compliance, if that works then it’s another good day. Sometimes that doesn’t work so we have to tell the person to comply, if that works it’s a good day that could have gone bad. If asking and telling doesn’t work, we have to be prepared to make them comply. That’s not optimal but, if that’s what has to happen than that’s what has to happen. I would love to tell folks that it’s just that simple; ask, tell, make, that’s all there is to it, however, it’s just not that simple. While you can’t keep drawing lines in the sand there are times when you might have to ask more than once or tell more than once before you make the decision to make them comply. Remember we are going to make sure there is no question that this is a criminally and civilly defensible act of self protection on our part. Talking until we can’t plays a big role in this so there might be times we’ll ask or tell several times before we move into the make side of things. (None of this means you can’t go straight to act/make if the threat is imminent.)
Asking an unknown to comply with your wishes is fairly simple. Keep in mind that someone that ignored our preloaded response should be causing thousands of years of fight or flight genetic programming to internally stand up and scream; PAY ATTENTION TO THIS THREAT. Think of your preloaded response as your first line of defense, a sensor set out on the outskirts of your perimeter that chirps when crossed but doesn’t necessarily indicate a threat that can’t be deterred. Your next line is a request. For example you’re being approached by a panhandler, your initial response is; no thank you, as you keep walking. The panhandler isn’t swayed and continues to follow you, asking for money. You realize you can’t walk forever so you stop, face him, and ask him to stop right there. It’s a fairly simple request and most folks lacking malevolent intent will comply. You can ask him to hold up right there and engage him from just outside arms length or farther if possible. The request can be as simple as; “Can you stop right there for me? Talk to me from there.” It’s easily understood, non-threatening, and assertive without being overly confrontational. You’re letting them know that you will engage them on your terms.
The next layer is telling them to comply with your wishes and this gets a little more interesting. When we are talking about engaging someone beyond a pre-loaded response there are a few landmines we must avoid. We want to be assertive, without being insulting. Craig Douglas and William Aprill speak about the dangers in unnecessarily escalating the situation by inadvertently insulting the opponent(s). There is a huge difference in saying; Stop right there! and Motherfucker, stop right there! One gives a command and sets a boundary, the other insults them and insults must be addressed. If there was a chance of de-escalating this it’s gone now. I would recommend simple verbal commands, and avoiding profanity if you don’t normally use profanity. Authenticity will take you further than sounding like someone trying to play a role you can’t fulfill. When it comes time to tell them, it’s also time to start to raise your voice. Stay clear, concise and non-threatening. Tell them; stop right there! Don’t add any type of “or else” statements. We’re commanding, not challenging. I’m not calling them names, or promising to throw them a beating. I’m telling them to stay away from me, loudly so anyone within the area knows something is going on here. This sets the stage for the next move and the decision is mostly up to them; walk away and find someone else or force me to protect myself. It’s their choice.
Only you can decide how much asking and telling you’re willing to do before you act. The circumstances dictate, and there is only so much you can do once you’ve been selected. Sometimes we have to get it on, but sometimes we don’t. Be prepared for both eventualities. Verbal agility is an incredibly valuable skill. Some of the most verbally and mentally agile people work in the service industry as bartenders, wait staff, and salespersons are also incredibly fast at building rapport. If you’re not in the business of regularly engaging folks you’ve never met, start. Be sociable. It’s really that simple. Talk to the person in line next to you at the coffee shop or movie theater. The next time you are in conversation with a friend listen with the intent to understand what they are saying, do not simply wait for them to stop talking so you can start talking. Actively listen and ask questions of them based on what they are saying. Develop verbal and mental agility through daily practice so you have this skill on tap when you need it. This is a skill just like any other skill, so develop it to the highest level possible because when you need it, you’re really going to need it. As with everything we do be prepared for your skills to de-escalate the situation but also for there to be no way to de-escalate. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, regardless we are prepared to go wherever the situation takes us. Verbal contests have ebbs and flows just like a physical contest so be prepared to ramp up and down accordingly. That’s what mental and verbal agility is all about.
Stay tuned for the next part in this series. Do no harm, but do know harm and be dangerous.