This is the first in a two-part series on soft skills in the close protection industry I’m writing for EP Wired.
Soft skills, the golden buzzword of the executive protection and close protection industry and universally agreed upon as one of the essential skills to master in our field.
But when it shares a plate with a big juicy steak like the cool-guy hard skills, soft skills are the vegetables on the same plate that no one wants to eat — but everyone agrees is good for you. In other words, next to hard skills, no one likes training for soft skills or sitting in boring classes learning about them.
But we must master them. In fact, we must like the taste as it completes a well-balanced diet in our profession.
EP Wired’s editors approached me to write about my specialty in soft skills. I want to share some knowledge about how I specialize, practice, and apply soft skills in the close protection industry.
How I go about it is probably a bit more unorthodox than many of you are used to. And I’m not sure the industry is ready for what I’m about to tell you. But here it goes.
Mastering Skills in the Close Protection Industry
So how does one master soft skills? Well, you never truly master it. You really can’t. The environment around you is constantly evolving, changing, and you must adapt. That means you must be a student of experience, pick up new tricks along the way, and toss out antiquated information. That — in and of itself — is a soft skill. In other words, some of you old dogs must be open to new tricks.
That said, you can get really good at it through continuous experience and study. So empirical experience is going to be your biggest training tool. Similarly, the more you work, the more interactions and situations arise that can be solved by soft skill applications, the better you become and the more wisdom you glean.
But why is soft skill mastery so important?
Philosophy in Action
Soft skills in the close protection industry help keep you from resorting to hard skills and further problems that arise from hard skill applications like:
- Kinetic force,
- Evasive driving, and
- Other skills that, while protective in nature, still risk the clients’ safety and create legal liability for you and the client involved.
Speaking of wisdom, in all honesty, what has helped me improve my soft skills is the study and application of philosophy (Philo: Love, Sophy: Wisdom).
“Wait, what? Philosophy? Like Plato, Socrates, and those old guys?”
Well, not exactly, specifically, stoicism. And while Stoic Philosophy is still an old practice, it is just as relevant today as it was 2,500 years ago. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a perfect pragmatic study and real-world use for soft skill applications.
“OK, this got boring really quick. You are losing me, my guy.”
OK, bear with me for a sentence or two.
Stoicism is a practice of logic and reason. Thus, that’s why psychologists and psychotherapists now credit it as the basis for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy development and treatment.
Higher Virtues Explained
The premise of Stoicism is to help one overcome emotional responses from the external environment around you through logic and reason. Therefore, for an agent to utilize their soft skills effectively, they must be able to think logically to create sound judgments in times of chaos and distress without succumbing to emotions like anger, fear, or agitation.
They must be wise about the situations and actions needed to be taken to ensure the desired outcome. In the case of EP, that is client safety.
“OK, so how does this make me better?”
Well, we all agree an excellent EP agent must hold oneself to higher virtues. Hence, the pursuit and achievement of virtue allows an agent to control one’s pride, ego, emotions, and subsequent actions, which allows an agent to achieve desired results expected of himself and what’s expected by the client.
Emotional control allows an agent to maintain a stable mental environment where rational thinking is utilized more — and the urge to react under the influence of emotion is sobered. In addition, that emotional control and rational thought allow for clearer judgment when making tactical or soft skills decisions in the close protection industry.
Remember, our job is to prevent any and all situations where we may have to use kinetic or lethal force. In fact, a mind compromised by ego, pride, and emotions puts us at risk of making a grave mistake.
If you are emotionally compromised by ego and pride, you are at risk legally and ethically. And worst of all, the client’s safety is at risk. Therefore, you MUST always value reason and logic and pursue higher virtue to ensure your soft skills are applied effectively in the close protection industry.
So, what virtues must an EP agent strive for to sharpen one’s soft skills and remain effective? Well, the Stoics teach that there are four cardinal virtues that one must seek out and practice every day. For EP agents, seeking the four cardinal virtues lets you put your emotions, pride, and ego in check to maintain a rational and effective tactical posture.
Wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance are all virtues that I have adopted from the Stoics for both on duty and in my personal life. These virtues have helped me immensely in my:
- ethics, and
Let’s talk about what this means for an EP agent in the applications of soft skills in the close protection industry.
EP agents must possess wisdom in the decisions they make. It can be one or all of several things:
- routes we take,
- gear we choose,
- interactions we have,
- conversations and tactical suggestions to the client,
- resources we exploit,
- decisions we commit to, and
- emotions that arise from external stimuli that may affect our judgment of the above.
At one time or another down the road, wisdom might even mean the difference between life and death. Experience in the field and constant self-monitoring allow an agent clearer thinking when adversity strikes. The biggest part of self-monitoring is recognizing the only two things we can control — our emotions and our actions — and in that order.
Everything outside that we must make peace with and react rationally. This means regardless of the client’s behavior and actions, the teammate’s behavior and actions, traffic, vehicle performance, and the chaos in the environment around you. It’s NOT what happens to you that matters. It’s how you react to those issues and your actions regarding them.
Part of an EP agent’s pursuit of wisdom is being at peace with what you can’t control and acting rationally to what you can control to achieve the desired outcome.
“Don’t seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you.” ― Epictetus
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” ― Epictetus
In other words, action in the face of adversity or courage for EP agents. I would further define “courage” as “professionalism in the face of adversity.”
We are often faced with ethical, moral, and legal decisions regarding our clients and our protection of them. It’s no secret that, at times, we might have to protect a client whose lifestyle and habits may skirt legal, ethical, and moral boundaries.
We are often forced to wrestle with our own ethics and morals when supporting a client who so easily throws them out. However, we must remember that our own feelings of virtue differ from theirs. Thus, it is not our place to judge. We must be indifferent and objective. Our task is to protect them from external threats — or themselves when they are under the influence of substance or emotion.
We must maintain a professional posture despite our own thoughts and feelings about things we witness that make perfect use of NDAs. That said, it also takes courage to walk away from a client you feel has stepped out of bounds with you. But despite ridicule from them or adverse actions from a team lead who may not always align with your boundaries, you must do what you feel is necessary.
Granted, some of us are more patient than others, each one of us has our own line we don’t want to be crossed. Hence, it takes courage to stand up for yourself.
The Nature of the Game
Lastly, we must muster up our professional courage to face the day and do our duty as assigned to us despite whatever adversity we face. Whether professional or personal hardship, we must have the courage to sequester our adverse emotions that cloud our soft-skill decision-making and get the job done.
This is the path we chose. Therefore, we must accept all events we perceive as good or bad that come within the nature of the game.
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” ― Marcus Aurelius
“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.” ― Marcus Aurelius
See you soon for part two on soft skills in the close protection industry!