Verbal Judo: Achieve Your Professional Objectives


October 14, 2010

How many times have you felt frustrated when you are trying to persuade someone to do something and they are just not biting?  Do you potentially come on too strong when the other person wont come to an agreement with you?  If you’re like me, this happens at work, at home, and out in the world in day-to-day interactions.  So, when I was at the HR Southwest conference this week and saw a session called ‘ Verbal Judo:  Essence of Mind and Mouth Harmony‘, I knew it was going to be worth my time.

This session was led by Peter Harrell, a Master Trainer from the Verbal Judo Institute in Austin, TX.  Peter’s speaking style was educational and entertaining.  His background in acting helped give him that extra little spark to keep the audience engaged.  At times, almost too engaged because a woman in the row behind me was answering all his rhetorical questions as if she was in church….but I digress.  The whole idea of using verbal judo is to choose words that can help calm emotional situations, diffuse dangerous situations, and redirect undesired behavior.  It’s a training that can be beneficial to HR professionals because we come into contact with employees when they are in situations that can be quite heated.

By thinking about how we communicate in these situations, we can use our words to achieve professional objectives and, according to Mr. Harrell, allow people to surrender with dignity.  We all know that sometimes, we all just want to get our way and “win”.  So, the ability to let others gracefully compromise or even come around to your way of thinking is a brilliant tactic.  One of the best take aways from the session were the responses to people who are becoming verbally abusive in the situation.

For example, if you are in a situation where an employee or manager is becoming verbally hostile with you, deflect that by saying phrases such as:

  • I can relate to that, however…
  • In your position I might feel the same way, however…
  • I hear what you’re saying, however….
  • I’m sorry you feel that way, however…

It’s important to try to remain calm and gain (or re-gain) control of the conversation and situation.

Always ask the person up front for their buy in or compliance.  Then, set the context by telling them why.  If they still are disagreeing, give them options that all lead back to their compliance.  Ninety percent of people will be in agreement with you by this point.  For the small percentage who won’t, try asking the question, “Is there anything I can say to gain your cooperation?”  This will open the door for the compromise.

If you’d like more information on Verbal Judo training for your organization, please contact Peter Harrell at


  • I was following the Twitter stream on this session. I’m jealous that I missed it, but appreciate the updates. It sounds like it was a great session!

    • @Chris and @Dwane- Glad you liked it. Wish you had both been there with me!

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Peter Harrell
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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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