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Know how to communicate, don’t just hope for the best

Note: This excerpt is taken from Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion by Dr. George Thompson. For more info on this or any of Doc’s other books, visit

If you have had good days and bad days as a communicator, you are sometimes operating at the level of what I call unconscious competence. Without understanding why, you are sometimes effective. The only problem with being an unconscious competent is that it can be dangerous.

If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you’re depending on verbal instincts to get you through, you can make costly mistakes.

Verbal Judo teaches you to become consciously competent in both the use of words and in your nonverbal presence. If it’s true that lack of communication is a major factor behind everything from ruined marriages to lost fortunes and world wars, verbal skills are crucial to the survival of society. If you’ve ever alienated anyone, burned any bridges (or even left them smoking), lost a promotion, or angered your mother-in-law, you have had communication problems.

I believe the greatest abuse today is verbal abuse, which is the basis for all child abuse, spouse abuse, drug abuse, and just about any other type of abuse you can think of. In fact I would argue that verbal abuse is far more prevalent than substance abuse in our country.

Tongue lashings are a major reason why people turn to drugs or alcohol. They don’t feel worthy. Nowhere is this more evident than in our prisons. Our penal institutions are full of people who have been verbally, if not physically, abused all their lives. In their anger and rage, they set out to abuse others.
These prisoners—and sadly, millions of other people who are not criminals—have never heard words that would make them feel good about themselves. They’ve never heard gentle encouragement or praise. Their lives have been full of relentless taunts, criticisms, and put-downs.

That sort of verbal abuse lasts far longer than physical abuse. Ask yourself if you remember every spanking you received as a child. Now how about a specific, personal slam from someone you cared about? A wound inflicted by a hand or even a weapon will eventually heal and fade from memory. But old verbal wounds may never heal. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.

Words cut deeper and their wounds fester longer than traumas of the sword. That’s why we need to be trained to speak effectively.

Have you ever taken a class on how to speak with assurance and ease? Or one on presence under pressure? For most of us, it’s a sad truth: No one has ever systematically trained us to speak effectively.

Dr. George J. Thompson is the President and Founder of the Verbal Judo Institute, a tactical training and management firm based in Auburn, NY. He has trained more than 500,000 police officers and his Verbal Judo course is required in numerous states. The course has been tailored for Corrections, and all kinds of businesses and other organizations.