We were inspired by a recent CBS 60 Minutes piece featuring The Ritchie Boys. They were a World War II German-Austrian unit, many of them Jewish, who had immigrated to the U.S. prior to WWII. Because of their knowledge of European languages and German culture, these American soldiers were trained in interrogation and counterintelligence methods. The Ritchie Boys produced over 60% of actionable intelligence, critical to the Battle of the Bulge and the outcome of the war.
Ritchie Boy Guy Stern said “We never used violence or the threat of violence; that wouldn’t elicit information or persuade prisoners to denounce Nazism. What worked was complicity, shared experience. ‘We’re in this thing together’; the human connection.”
We can leverage this technique to persuade team members or potential clients. To be productive, make the human connection with empathy, then back it up with how you and your services are critical to success. According to one Ritchie Boy, they also improvised, sometimes dressing up as Russian soldiers to intimidate prisoners. Without theatrics, we can also be flexible enough to pivot and change course during a presentation.
Many of these brave soldiers went on to successful political, scientific, academic, and business careers. May we emulate their courage and great communication skills.