Verbal Judo: Summary & Review

verbal judo

In Verbal Judo (1993) author George Thompson teaches readers the verbal skills, techniques, and mindsets to prevent escalations and get what they want, no matter how challenging the situation may seem.

Bullet Summary

  • Treat people with respect
  • Put your ego aside: let bad words slide
  • Listen to what they mean, not what they say

Verbal Judo Summary

About The Author:
George J. Thompson is a former police officer and a communication skills trainer.
As he shares in his own book, he is also a martial arts expert but dedicated his career to using words to get what he wanted.


The author says that verbal judo is about using and deflecting the other person’s aggression to reach your goal.

It’s the opposite of “verbal karate”, which is more likely to escalate and leave people’s feelings hurt.

Underpinning the whole idea of verbal judo is to treat people with dignity and respect.

Don’t Take Things Personally

This is rule #1.

George J. Thompson says that if you learn not to take things personally, you’ll already be ahead of the curve and barely need any verbal judo.

Most of interpersonal issues, indeed, are born out of ego (read how to rebuild your ego).

Say what you want but do as I say

Develop Empathy 

Empathy is the most critical skill of verbal judo, says the author.

Empathy doesn’t mean sympathizing or approving of him. It means to see through his eyes and understand.

3 Types of People

The author says there are three types of people:

  • Nice People (will do what you say)
  • Difficult people (will push back and want to know why and what’s your authority)
  • Wimps (will not say anything but will resent you and breed discontent)

With difficult people, George shows early on what’s in it for them.

Always Go for Win-Win

Following a major tenet of the 7 Habits of highly effective people, Thompson presents the solution he wants as a win-win for both.

For example, he would say something like:

“so far you have only done X. if you refuse to cooperate, you will spend the night in jail, get a criminal record and I will have to do a lot of paperwork. If you step out of the car and cooperate, we will be done in 10 minutes”.

This is also a similar technique as presented by a former FBI agent in The Like Switch.

Learn to Paraphrase

Paraphrasing is another key ingredient of effective verbal judo.

Paraphrasing often serves to soften the tone.
Angry people don’t really mean what they say, so when you paraphrase them and use their own words such as “always” and “on purpose” they will soften the tone themselves.

When you paraphrase never ask if they understood you: nobody will admit they didn’t.
Let them repeat.

And to paraphrase them, here’s the perfect way:

Let me be sure I understand what you have said 

Avoid These Bad Phrases

Verbal Judo has a very interesting chapter about the top phrases to avoid.

I invite you to read the book for the complete list, but here are some that struck me the most:

  • What’s your problem (instead: what’s the matter, how can I help)
  • Calm down
  • I’m gonna do X to you (don’t warn people of impending action or they’ll get ready)
  • This is the last time I say it (it’s probably not true and you’ll lose credibility)
  • Because those are the rules

Here’s Why You Need to Explain The Rules

Some rule enforcers don’t like to explain the rules.

Why Not?

Because they are being egotists.
The author says that when people refuse to explain they show they are more concerned about themselves and appearing dominant than about the other person’s well-being.

And it’s most likely to escalate.

If someone else gives you the dreaded answer “because those are the rules” you could say:

“Could you explain to me why those rules were put in the first place. They don’t make sense to me and if I understood it would be much easier for me to  comply”.

The 5 Steps of Verbal Judo

The author proposes a five-step approach to the conversation:

  1.  Ask (ethical appeal)
  2. Set context (reasonable appeal: explain policies and rules)
  3. Present options (reasonable appeal: what’s in it for them and what if they don’t)
  4. Confirm (practical appeal: “can I do or say anything to make you cooperate”)
  5. Act

When you present options, make him feel like it’s his choice (saves his face, also read How to Win Friends).
And flash out the stories, give details: make him feel what it’s like to choose the difficult option or the easy one.

The Structure of Verbal Judo: LEAPs

The author provides 5 steps and tools to generate compliance:

  1. Listen
  2. Empathize
  3. Ask
  4. Paraphrase
  5. Summarize

He goes into details for each step and I invite you to get the book for the details.

Praise and Criticism: Avoid The Sandwich

I love the author’s take on the typical sandwich feedback technique.

He says most people will not believe your praise at all when followed by a “but” or by a critique.

Do the opposite instead: start with the criticism and what you want to see them improve on.
Then deliver heartfelt praise that is highly specific. Specific praises are credible and memorable.

React to What People Mean, Not What They Say

George Thompson says to react to what people mean, not to the actual words.

When people are angry they might not really mean what they say or not understand the situation.

Address the underlying issue and concern instead.

Cross-Cultural Communication

The author says the stress on cross-cultural communication can sometimes be more counterproductive than useful.

He says instead something I always believed in as well: what if we focused on the commonalities instead?

Same as the author, I too agree there are more key commonalities than differences.

Also, read:

verbal judo book cover

Real-Life Applications

Confront Wimps
You need to confront the people who talk behind your backs or they will undermine you.
Exposure is unbearable to wimps, so if you call them out on it, they’ll disappear like snow on a hot day.

Don’t Repeat Yourself
Don’t repeat orders over and over because it’s a sign of weakness for people in a position of authority.
And if you’re executing, execute orders high-power.

Don’t Say What Makes You Feel Good
… Unless it also makes the other person feel good.
When you’re angry it might feel good to lash out, but it’s almost always the wrong reaction. And you can never really take back what you said.


  • Some Macho Attitude

Albeit he presents himself as a man of words and not brawns, Thompson often comes across as a bit macho.
And, in a couple of instances, even slightly braggart.


Verbal Judo is a treasure trove of great communication tools.

It’s up there with the best of them, like Difficult Conversations and I liked it even more than Crucial Conversations.

I absolutely recommend you to get it.
This is only an overview and the examples in the book are what make the difference.

As I reviewed the best communication skills books, I moved “Verbal Judo” from 5 to 4 stars.
It’s still up there with the best ones, but not as good as “Difficult Conversations” in my opinion.

Get the book on Amazon

1 thought on “Verbal Judo: Summary & Review”

  1. I like the information provided. I am making up a family project, modeling the art of persuasion.
    Thank you,

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top