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What Is Verbal Judo for Police? The Gentle Art of Persuasion Explained

Verbal Judo may sound like a martial art on the surface, but it does not involve any physical contact. Verbal Judo is designed to diffuse tense, aggressive, or violent situations without harming either party. So what is verbal Judo, and how does it work?

Verbal judo is a tactical communication strategy used to calm confrontational interactions and direct them to a peaceful outcome. The techniques include speaking in a certain way, facial expressions, and body language designed to diffuse potentially volatile situations.

Verbal judo is a specialized technique many law enforcement officers (LEO) use to get people to comply without using physical force. How do police forces use verbal Judo, is it effective, and does it have application for anyone outside of peacekeeping forces?

The History Of Verbal Judo

Police forces are not only trained to deal with tense situations using physical force. A key part of police training is to equip police officers with verbal techniques to diffuse tense, heated situations before they escalate to the point of an out-of-control situation.

Verbal Judo is a form of tactical, strategic communication with a specific goal in mind. The strategy and intent of the technique are to bring a level of calm to a situation that is on the brink of boiling over into a more serious situation.

Verbal Judo is not a martial art, but it takes its name from the martial art of Judo, which means the “gentle way.” This characteristic speaks to the philosophy and purpose behind this tactical communication.

Verbal Judo was developed by Dr. George Thompson, a teacher, police officer, and martial artist who held a black belt in Judo and Taekwondo.

More than 30 years ago, Thompson codified what he saw as common sense: using tactical language calmly under pressure to achieve a clearly defined goal – with the priority of keeping officers safe.

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Dr. Thompson developed the technique over years of study in the field, formed the Verbal Judo Institute in 1983, and published four books on Verbal Judo.

What Does Verbal Judo Teach?

Verbal Judo teaches that communication is a skill that can be used, much like a martial art, to deflect an attack and diffuse a situation.

The technique is a powerful form of verbal persuasion that gently brings people around to your way of thinking. It is especially useful in confrontational or high-stress situations and scenarios.

The foundation of the method is that to react to an event or situation is to be controlled by the event or situation. In contrast, responding to an event or situation in a strategic manner lets you control the event or situation. 

It is a normal human reaction to respond to an adversarial situation with equal force, which Verbal Judo teaches us to suppress in favor of a structured, controlled response to gain a specific outcome.

Verbal Judo teaches us to listen better to what others say and think about a structured, calculated response rather than a knee-jerk response that could escalate a situation, make us lose our temper, or provoke a negative reaction.

Verbal judo teaches how to communicate effectively with difficult people
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What Are The Steps Of Verbal Judo?

Verbal Judo is a complex methodology that takes training to master, but it proposes that most confrontational situations can be controlled by using 5 communication steps.

  1. Ask and ask again. Clarity and avoiding misunderstanding are crucial. Do not assume, but rather repeat questions to avoid miscommunication.
  2. Give or set the context. Explain the rules, policies, or the law and indicate that what is happening contravenes these concepts. Keep calm and deflect negative comments. Use empathy to understand the person’s actions.
  3. Present options. Give the person multiple options of how the situation can unfold and each option’s consequences. This gives people the feeling that they have a choice, must accept the consequences of their choice, and that you are not controlling them.
  4. Confirm non-compliance. Confirm the situation cannot continue and ask the person if there is anything you can do to help, say, do, or support you can offer to help them make a correct decision.
  5. Act. The final step is to take action to prevent the situation from dragging on and give control back to the other person.

The principles used during the interaction with the other person must be structured and follow a pattern or LEAPS. This acronym comes from the strategy to Listen, Empathize, Ask, Paraphrase, and Summarize.

The following video further explains what L.E.A.P.S is by Dr. Thompson, the founder of Verbal Judo.

What Are Examples Of Verbal Judo In A Real Situation?

The principles of Verbal Judo are to start a conversation in a manner that promotes engagement rather than aggression or perceived attempts to attack or provoke the other person.

An example of using Verbal Judo in a real situation is as follows.

A visitor to a building wanders into a restricted area. A security guard approaches the person and has two options to open the conversation.

Option 1: Sir, what are you doing here? This is a restricted area, and you are not permitted to be here. Return to reception and wait to be called for your appointment.

This option comes across as being authoritarian and aggressive and evokes a confrontational response from the person being addressed.

Option 2: Sir, building management restricts access to certain areas. Can I walk you back to reception and help you find out what is taking so long while you wait for your appointment?

Option 2 comes across as being helpful and offering guidance rather than telling the person they are doing something wrong in a confrontational manner and evoking an aggressive response from the person being addressed.

The following video illustrates examples of when proper verbal techniques are used versus when they are not:

How Is Verbal Judo Used in Law Enforcement?

Verbal Judo is used in a variety of situations in law enforcement. Officers are trained in these techniques to use when confronting suspects, in hostage situations, interacting with the public, interviewing witnesses, or even crowd control.

Police officers are taught that what they say can escalate a situation and provoke violence or calm and diffuse a situation and bring a peaceful, favorable outcome without the need for physical force.

“We know that the most deadly weapon we carry is not the .45 or the 9mm, it is in fact the cop’s tongue… A single sentence fired off at the wrong person at the wrong time can get you fired, it can get you sued, it can get you killed,”

George Thompson, PhD

Unfortunately, the use of force by police officers is a never-ending concern for law enforcement agencies, with public outcry calling for more peaceful resolutions to conflict situations.

For this reason, many law enforcement agencies require their officers to undergo verbal judo training to communicate effectively to gain compliance or cooperation from subjects in tense situations. This saves lives and improves the public image of law enforcement in the end.

Dep. Mark Pini explains how he uses verbal judo
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Is Verbal judo for law enforcement only?

Verbal Judo is used extensively by law enforcement agencies, but the application of the techniques is not limited to this sector.

The techniques can be applied in business, sales, teachers, healthcare, sport, and any leadership sector.

The program’s techniques can help you listen better and control conversations and interactions gently and imperceptibly to get the desired outcome.

Who Can Benefit The Most From Verbal Judo?

Law enforcement, security personnel, public officials, school children, parents, business people, coaches, sports people, and anyone in a leadership role can benefit from the techniques taught in Verbal Judo.

It can teach introverted people to be more confident, help salespeople close deals or help healthcare professionals treat patients with more empathy.  

Verbal Judo has applications in every walk of life or profession or even interpersonal relationships. Consequently, everyone can learn something or gain benefits from Verbal Judo.

This video shows how verbal judo can benefit children as a way to avoid conflict.

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How Can People Learn Verbal Judo?

How do you learn Verbal Judo and find resources to get you started? One of the best resources to learn more about the training is to visit the Verbal Judo Institute website.

The Verbal Judo Institute is the training center set up by Dr. Thompson to teach the de-escalation and tactical communication techniques he developed over years of study in the field. 

Another option is to order the book “Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art Of Persuasion,” authored by Dr. Thompson.

The book is a great resource to have available since you can refer back to it time and again as you learn to master the techniques.

Conclusion

While Verbal Judo is not a physical martial art, it is certainly a mental martial art and requires the same dedication and discipline to learn the techniques and skills.

As with other martial arts, the benefits of Verbal Judo can be applied to all aspects of life and will teach you to interact with your fellow humans less aggressively and still get the desired outcome!