Verbal Judo, Updated Edition: The Gentle Art of Persuasion, by George J. Thompson, PhD

The late George J. Thompson (died 2011) trained in judo and aikido before becoming a police officer in his early 30s. In that career he noticed that some of the police he worked with seemed to have a natural talent for defusing conflicts and calming people under stress. It was something that didn’t come naturally to him, so he began to analyze what those good communicators were doing and started seeing a similarity to between their verbal styles and Judo (“the gentle way”) and Aikido (“unifying spirit way”). From that he developed five universal truths:

  1. All people want to be treated with dignity and respect.
  2. All people want to be asked rather than being told to do something.
  3. All people want to know why they are being asked to do something.
  4. All people want to be given options rather than threats.
  5. All people want a second chance when they make a mistake.

Thompson took his verbal judo classes around the country to various police forces for training. He notes that he was scheduled to train police in Los Angeles the week after the Rodney King beating, and wonders whether that situation would have been handled differently.

In this book Thompson expands on the ideas for other areas of people’s lives. He has chapters on parenting, managing, marriage, and other areas in which you need to make your feelings known, have priorities, and want to communicate with others without escalating conflict. This isn’t manipulation. Rather it involves empathy. It’s trying to understand what others are trying to communicate, making sure you understand, and then speaking back to those people in a way that honors their needs.

Thompson uses interactions with his own son and wife. He also offers plenty of examples of using it in life-or-death situation while he was a policeman to show that if the techniques will work there that they can work in areas where there’s less at stake.

It’s written in a conversational style, with real world examples and tips for controlling your own emotions when you feel verbally attacked. With or without the book, the “five universal truths” should be on every office wall, teacher’s desk, and home refrigerator as a regular reminder.