Saturday, October 3, 2009

Verbal Judo: A Material Art for the Service Desk.(how to deflect angry customers words and turn things around)(Column).

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Learn how one tough cop learned to channel his martial arts skills in a whole new direction. His method could help you win over even the most difficult customer.

"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."

-- Proverbs 15; Verse 1.

"The most dangerous weapon in hte world is the cocked tongue."

-- George J. Thompson, Ph.D.

Verbal Judo isn't about taking crap. It's about deflecting it." So said George J. Thompson, Ph.D. and author of several books on the system he calls Verbal Judo, in a recent Motor Age interview.

"It's martial arts of the mind and the mouth," he added. Thompson is an ex-cop, ex-college professor (not in that order), martial artist and proponent of a unique way of looking at, and handling, difficult people.

We asked Thompson if VerbalJudo could be used at the service desk, as well as outside a patrol car. He assured us it could be, saying that its principles apply to any person or personality type a service person might encounter.

Before tackling automotive service situations though, we wanted to know how the principles of judo could be applied to a verbal confrontation in general. Thompson described how he came to develop his unique method.

The beginning

As Thompson told Motor Age, it all started on his first day as a police officer. Thompson is 6-feet, 2-inches tall, weighs 210 pounds and holds black belts in judo and tae kwon do. Twice on his First day, the new officer had to contend with a citizen who wanted nothing to do with cooperating with Thompson's requests. In each case, after trying to reason with the motorist for several minutes, he manhandled the 'suspect' into handcuffs and took him downtown. Thompson figured he'd get a pat on the back, but instead, he received a reprimand on his 'get-tough' tactics.

Later, after observing some veteran cops handle a few volatile situations in creative and unique ways, he decided to try his martial arts philosophy verbally during his next confrontation.

Save face, and save the day

Because the basic idea of judo is to redirect the energy and hostility of an attacker rather than resist it head-on, Thompson developed a way of doing this verbally. For example, instead of using the first thing that comes to mind, such as, 'Come here,' or 'I'm not going to say this again Thompson would employ empathy. In addition, he would keep in mind the number one rule of Verbal Judo: If at all possible, allow the other person to save face. This is extremely important to people, Thompson points out, and if you allow that, they will do nearly anything else you ask them to do.

For example, a police officer is trying to calm a potentially violent troublemaker. He could say, 'Put that knife down or I'll take you out.' But as Thompson points out in his book "VerbalJudo' "that virtually forces the man to attack, to defend his manhood."

However, if the officer can project empathy, and allow the man to save face, the outcome may be very different. He might say, 'Hey friend, let's do each other a favor. You don't want to spend the night downtown with us, eating our food, sleeping on our steel cot and missing your woman. And I don't want to sit at a typewriter for a couple of hours doing paperwork on this. If we can work this out, you can have dinner at your own table, be with your woman and wake up in your own bed tomorrow morning. And I can go back about my business?

In many cases, that's all it takes. As Thompson puts it, "The officer has motivated a disagreeable person to a point of 'Voluntary Compliance' -- the ultimate goal of VerbalJudo?'

The basics

VerbalJudo, in Thompson's words is, "The art of remaining calm under pressure, of listening carefully to what a person means to say, rather than what they are actually saying, and then redirecting their hostility to more positive channels of communication ... which can be done.

"Our program trains people to remain calm under verbal assault because when people [customers] are upset, they will give you all the information you need to handle them," Thompson said. "But it's very hard to listen when they are behaving that way. So we deflect the abuse and keep our eye on service.

"People who are upset are in need of help. Some front desk people believe wrongly that they 'don't have to take that crap.' But they're in the 'crap-taking' [deflecting] business," Thompson pointed out.

So how do you do it? "Don't tell the customer to calm down; you have to calm them down by the way you handle them. It's a tactical thing," he explained.

We asked Thompson why it is so important that you allow people to save face. He said, "Well, because everyone expects and thinks they deserve respect. Going back to the Latin, 'respect' means to give back. You give Out what you would like to get back. It's the Golden Rule 'twisted' to the street. 'When a person doesn't get respect, they want revenge, even if they're wrong.

"Too often we teach the wrong thing... that the customer is always right. The customer is not always right; they are often wrong. But are we trained to help people who are wrong, or are partially wrong ... to make them right? The customer is often wrong about the automotive diagnosis. Our job is not to tell them they are wrong, but to help them back to being right. Respect is how you would like to be treated so we use tactical empathy [to project that]."

Expect the unexpected

Many people wonder how you can redirect angry people when all you want to do is get them "out of your face," as Thompson would say. His answer is, "The concept is called, 'Mushin.' It means to anticipate situations and stay open-minded towards a possible solution. Falling into the trap of releasing our own emotions is easy and can happen even before we have a chance to rationalize our thoughts. Under pressure, the first thought that comes to our mind is rarely the best thing to say, but often is what we do say.

First though, the service writer has to understand the various personality types that he or she may end up encountering.

Nice, difficult and wimp

Thompson groups people into three categories: the nice guy, the difficult person and the wimp. We asked him to describe each. "The nice guy is 'single-keyed,' meaning one key works the lock," Thompson said. "The nice guy will cooperate the first time."

The difficult person (and Thompson puts himself in this category) is multikeyed. As Thompson put it, "Nothing works the first time with them. They ask 'why,' they ask 'when,' they ask 'how come.' But this type of person built America," Thompson asserted. "They'll make you work, they'll draw from you your best skills to redirect them. They need persuasion.

Finally, the wimp, Thomson said, appears to be a nice guy at first, but in reality is the most difficult character you will deal with. He said, "Wimps are 'closet difficult people?.'"

To quote from "Verbal Judo": "To your face they will say, 'Oh yes, I agree? They may even compliment you on your words, ideas or even clothes. They've got the courtesy rap down cold. But later they get you in the back - in the back, baby?'

Thompson pointed out that sometimes you will find the 'wimp' type in a co-worker. He said, "They'll act friendly and pretend all is well with your relationship. Then they'll complain to your boss, to their friends and to anyone else who will listen to their complaints. If you have ever had a complaint that took you by surprise, you can bet it came from a wimp. They don't like authority, but they don't have the courage to challenge it. So they specialize in revenge," he said.

So how do I do it?

Thompson has a four-step process to try to gain the irate customer's cooperation:

1. Ask for cooperation; set the context.

2. Tell the customer why you are suggesting a particular solution.

3. Give the customer options: "We can do A, B, or C."

4. If all else fails, ask, "Is there anything I could say or we could do that would get your cooperation in this matter? I'd like to think so?'

Very often, when all else has failed, number four works. Thompson explained that one time when he faced a situation like that with a motorist, he asked, "Is there anything I can say or do that will motivate you to get into the patrol car?" The man answered, "Yes, you can say, 'Please.'" So Thompson said, "please," and the man got in the car with no more resistance. The motorist had saved face in front of his friends, and Thompson made the arrest without having to use force to get him in the car.

Again, Thompson refers to this as moving a person from a place of resistance to one of voluntary compliance.

Loving the job

We asked him how he, as a self-described 'difficult person,' (5) could use the principles of Verbal Judo effectively. He answered, "It's not a problem if you have a professional orientation. Because I'm difficult, I intend to do it [Verbal Judo] better than anyone. Once I realized that deflecting abuse is a powerful thing ... that listening when you are least capable of it is a tactical skill, I began to take great pride in handling people who most people couldn't. As a cop, I actually volunteered for domestic disputes. I began to love dealing with difficult people."

Thompson pointed out that if a shop finds a person who is willing to learn these principles and who becomes skilled at dealing with the most difficult of customers, he or she will be worth their weight in gold. He also said that very often, when a service manager handles a situation with an irate customer well, that person becomes a customer for life. Many times, those types of encounters lead to the customer coming back the next day and apologizing.

"They know that they were out of line," Thompson said.

Interpreting the garbage

As Thompson stated, an irate customer will unwittingly tell you exactly what it will take to solve the problem. First though, you have to learn not to react, to listen long enough and then to interpret what the customer is saying.

The first thing Thompson teaches Verbal Judo students is that people who are upset never say what they mean. So it is totally useless and self-defeating to react to their apparent message. The truth is, every single encounter with an upset customer has one common thread. The person's message, no matter what the customer is saying, is the same: "I need help." Nonetheless, whatever their need, all you may observe at first is that the customer is ranting and raving. He or she may be behaving like someone "possessed."

So, what is the key to helping that particular person? First, you deflect what they initially say. It might be an insult, a complaint or just a whine. You do this by stating, "I hear what you are saying, Mr. Jones," rather than reacting to the message.

Second, you paraphrase what he or she is telling you. This is very powerful, because it communicates to the customer that you have been listening, and that now you are about to restate the complaint. As Thompson points out, everyone wants to hear what he or she has said, so very often, the customer will immediately stop talking.

Now that the customer is quiet, or at least quieter, you have the chance to say: "Let's see if I have this right. You understood that your car would be ready at 3:00 and now you've been told that it is going to take more time. Have I got that right?" If the customer responds positively, you may be on the way to solving the problem.

On the other hand, if the person wants to vent, they may hurl an insult, such as, "No, you're wrong. What I was saying is that any kindergarten student could have scheduled my repair, but you are so incompetent that you couldn't."

This is the point where the discipline of Verbal Judo really kicks in. Instead of getting into a name-calling match, keep your cool and say, "I'm sorry you feel that way Mr. Jones, but maybe there is a way we can fix the problem and have everyone win here."

A clean miss

Now, as Thompson said, a spear was thrown, but it missed! You are not taking are deflecting it. Now you can bring the customer back on track. "OK, Mr. Jones, let's get this straight. You need your car at 3:00, correct?" You just keep working at a solution until you achieve it.






Thompson pointed out one example of this method's success. He once overheard a man complaining loudly to a service writer. The counterperson had been trained in Verbal Judo. After a lengthy tirade by the customer, the crucial point surfaced. The customer said, "I only have one day that I can bring my car here, and now you're telling me I might have to leave it another day?" The service writer seized the opportunity. (As Thompson emphasized, everyone will tell you their real problem if you listen long enough.) He replied to the customer, "Well, ok, now I know the crucial issue. You only have one day to solve your transportation problem. That means we had better not waste any time; let's get going and see if there is a way we can get your car back to you today." That was it. The man immediately calmed down and became civilized again.

Turning the key

Verbal Judo is not magic; it is based on a deep understanding of human nature. But at the same time, it can be learned in a short time and put into practice. The method has the power to turn around even your most difficult customer. More important, learning this verbal 'martial art' could put you or your service writer back in control of the service desk ... and keep it that way.

Verbal Judo's Founder

George J. Thompson, Ph.D, is president and founder of the Verbal Judo Institute, a police training and management consulting firm based in Westcliffe, CO. Dr. Thompson is a former professor of English literature and a former police officer; he holds black belts in both jodo and tae kwon do. Thompson has a B.A. degree from colgate University and masters and Doctoral degrees from the University of Connecticut. Thompson's courses are now required for officers in a number of police departments around the country.

Source Citation:Cannon, Bill. "Verbal Judo: A Material Art for the Service Desk." Motor Age 120.10 (Oct 2001): 52(4). Academic OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 3 Oct. 2009

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