A couple weeks ago, Mickey Schuch of Carry Trainer interviewed Craig Douglas over the course of 3 hours touching on a variety of subjects. One topic was the desire of Craig and the Shivworks Collective to develop multidisciplinary students; people that are multi-faceted. Craig summarized their training goal as “developing someone with the pistol skills of a USPSA Grand Master, the combatives skills of an MMA champion, and the verbal agility of a standup comedian.
That last one confuses some folks…I mean why in the holy name of John Moses Browning would someone with ability to end another person feel it necessary to be good with the words and the putting together sentences making? Well here’s the dirty little secret that is so closely guarded by the cabal of self-defense instructors that my sharing it here may very well result in me getting “yeeted” or “clapped” by a squad of Kryptek-clad ninjas:
Being proficient with words can dramatically reduce your need to use the “hard skills” that we all love to practice so much. In fact, over the dozen years of my gun carrying life, I’ve managed to avoid more conflict verbally than I ever had with a firearm.
Craig calls this Verbal Agility. Tanner Guzy calls it Social Fluency. Well what the hell is it? It’s the ability to navigate a situation in a way that’s pre-established for you, but not predictable by the other party. Additionally, it helps if your brain is able to process inbound information while the outbound info is being sent. This gets tricky because what you’re saying needs to be crafted in such a way as to not degrade or escalate the situation. This is important because the wrong words, or words used at the wrong time, can throw “gas on the fire” resulting in the very conflict you’re trying to avoid. So the ideal goal is being able to receive and process the inbound information, and have at least a rough framework of the response already pre-established, so that you’re not having to take up RAM figuring out how to respond in the moment.
Enter “The OODA Loop”: The famous, yet routinely misinterpreted decision cycle from Air Force Colonel John Boyd. The part that seems (at least based on my understanding of it) to be misunderstood is the “D”: Decide. Most folks look at the word, and interpret it as “analyze”, actively formulating the response during the process. The true definition of decide is “ to make a choice from a number of alternatives,” which means that the options between which you are deciding are already pre-formulated, and you’re just picking A, B, or C. You need enough social fluency to ensure that your options are suitably inoffensive, and at the same time not so passive as to embolden a would-be attacker.
So what does all this have to do with the title of the article? Well, as luck would have it, it seems that my chosen profession of sales plays very strongly into this skillset. Over the years, I’ve developed the ability to listen to a client on the phone, engage with them, uncover their needs and build value in my product, while simultaneously building out other orders or performing some other unrelated task. This allows me to almost separate the physical and intellectual parts of my brain, to the point where they can operate independently without drawing bandwidth from the other.
I realized the benefits of this ability last year, when I attended Cecil Burch’s 2 day combo class Immediate Action Jiu Jitsu/Immediate Action Pugilism. Like most of the Shivworks Collective, a block of instruction is dedicated to Managing Unknown Contacts (MUC). Without divulging too much of the exercise, there is a portion of the drill where you’re engaged verbally, then suddenly having to transition to “default cover” and contend with an assault. It was common to see people vapor-lock, and having to finish what they were saying before they responded. Other folks would transition, but you would watch the switch as their brain went from one task to the other. My experience was actually quite different. For me, I continued my verbal response even as I was physically reacting to the assault.
Working in sales has also made me more sensitive to people’s body language, intonation, and choice of words. Unlike other professionals, my choice of words and timing can have real and immediate impacts to my quality of life, so I’ve learned how to apply them in a manner that yields my desired result. And here’s the fun part: if you get good at this, you can get the other person to think that the desired outcome that you want is their idea! I’m sure that you can see how this translates to personal protection. The idea is best quantified in the book Verbal Judo by Dr. George Thompson; a book equally popular among defense practitioners and business professionals. I highly suggest picking up a copy.
It’s difficult though, because it’s not an objective, measurable skill. You can’t check yourself against a shot timer or an accuracy standard. There’s not a shiny new piece of gear or crisp certificate that you can show off. The good news is that it’s free to practice, and you can do it literally anywhere. It’s even more fun to do with strangers, if you can pull it off without them getting wise to it. You’d be amazed what people are willing to do if you start off smiling, with a “Hey I’m sorry to bother you, but could you help me out real quick?”. As long as you’re not doing anything dishonest or immoral, I say try it out.
Those for whom verbal agility and interpersonal skills aren’t part of their daily professional requirements, Toastmasters is still a great option to get more comfortable with speaking. The great thing is that, if properly applied on a broad enough scale, these abilities can have widespread benefits. Suddenly we’re all a bit more cordial to each other; less eager to take offense and, if offended, less likely to lash out with a response that irreparably devolves the situation.
Next time you’re out and about, give it a shot. Here’s something to consider. If you carry a firearm, every little altercation you get into is a potential gunfight…because you’re there and you have a gun. I literally ask myself in those situations where I feel socially wounded “is this worth getting into a gunfight over?”. It takes self control to keep that ego in check. Just remember that carrying a gun doesn’t make you an enforcer of the social contract. That asshole that cut you off in traffic, the selfish jerk that stole your parking spot, all of the inconsiderate people you feel compelled to correct because they’ve somehow wronged you…just let it slide. If someone ends up yelling at you for whatever reason, craft a response that takes the wind out of their sails. Let them be right so they don’t have to get hurt. Try it out. It’s fun.