Graduating from Police College with distinction was like tasting the very delicious taste of chocolate. It was the taste of success. I realised though as I drove toward my first station assignment that I had great theory, but very little practical experience. The real learning started at 8am the next morning when I put in work on a real shift on the beat.
My new colleagues smiled benevolently at the new recruit who stood before them. Shoes were shined to an incandescent level, the Police shirt and trousers had ironed creases in them that you could cut your finger on. The new Police notebook only had the day and date in it. The rest was as empty as the Sahara desert. Eagerness was written on my forehead as I tried to hide the emptiness of my notebook amongst my new colleagues. The first day of a journey that I did not know would transform me from Police Officer to financial advisor over the forthcoming years.
About 2 months, and 3 notebooks later, a group of thugs were arrested for armed robbery. Not only had they taken $1000 from the till of the service station, but they had viciously beaten the proprietor over the head with a hammer, leaving a gaping wound that allowed a river of blood to cascade over the floor and customer area.
Back at the Police station I was given the task of interviewing one of the minor suspects in this incident. Quite fairly with only ‘3 notebooks’ to my name compared to my seasoned veterans with over “70 notebooks”, I was a long way from a seasoned interviewing pro. But I had to start somewhere and I was startled and excited when the Detective Sergeant said to me, “Constable go in and interview that man and give it your best shot, and surprise us, if you can!”
“Yea, yes Sgt,” I said, trying to sound confident in my reply, but underneath feeling my mouth dry up like a well in the baking midday sun. In I went to the interview room, marching in with the greatest amount of confidence I could muster, and keeping my shaking thighs under control. The suspect gave me a withering look and just stared at me as though I was just some small kid brought in for the show. Maybe he wasn’t too far wrong.
“Who are you?” he asked in a very patronising voice. “I s’pose you think you’ll get me to talk, and admit to something I didn’t do!” He glared at me across the table, as though egging me on to try. I could feel the venom of his antagonism surging across the table toward me.
“No,” I replied. “I want to talk about family!” With this he sat back and just looked at me, blankly, not knowing what to say. I continued on, and we were talked about personal matters and family. Then I said to him, “my brother got into this stuff to you know! He was arrested a while back, so I know what you’re going through.” He looked at me with an astonished look on his face and asked quizzically, “You’re a copper, why are you telling me this, ain’t that personal?”
“Yeah it is,” I replied, “but I just thought I’d just let you know.”
He tucked his head to the side and then said, “There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you guys…….” I was shocked. I came out of the interview about two hours later with the 1000 yard stare, and a full written confession under my arm. The Detective Sgt running the operation asked me what was wrong. I replied, “Nothing, I think, but I don’t know,” as I handed him the 15 page confession I had just obtained. His eyes widened like saucers, as a grin creased his lips. I had just got the confession from one of the gang that blew the case wide open.
How did it happen? I sat down and rewound the tape in my consciousness to see what the turning point was that turned the key of confession. Of course! “My brother,” I exclaimed to no-one in particular. That was the key. He had felt a kindred spirit. We had been through the same mill of adversity. He understood that I understood.
The next arrest, I tried the same tactic again. “My brother was arrested for that!” I said. Again the confession came flowing like water gushing from a pipe. I was amazed. The next arrest and interview. “I have a brother,” I said. “He was arrested a while back for doing what you’ve just done.” Again I saw that expression of understanding and again the confession flowed like oil.
From then on, whatever the crime, and whoever the criminal was, my brother had done the same crime as well. I was often called in to “talk” with some of the more hardened criminals, and got them to open up and talk to me, and confess to doing the job. “My brother,’ was always in the back ground of any discussion, because he had done the same criminal act. I realised I had a real talent for talking with people and interviewing them, because I put myself in their position, and empathised with them, through ‘my brother’
Was it trickery? Was I being dishonest and coercing the criminal into a dishonest confession, using the analogy of my brother? I pondered on this. I soon realised they weren’t being coerced. I was allowing the person to tell truth, because I was trying to understand it from his perspective, using my brother as a prop. The crim still didn’t have to talk; I just gave him more of an opportunity.
15 years later, my time in the Police was up. The passion was gone and ‘my brother’ had been arrested so many times for every crime imaginable in the criminal statute books. Many hardened criminals had been put behind bars to contemplate their future and review their past. It was time to move on.
I was sitting at home when the phone rang. John Erkilla was on the other end, asking how I was. I didn’t know John, but he knew me and he had a small financial company that we was developing. He needed people that knew how to talk to people and help them understand how they could financially, be better off. John had heard about ‘my brother.’
“I’m told you sell ice cream to Eskimos,” he said, matter of factly. “In fact I’m told you’re so good at interviewing, that you never missed getting a confession. But I can make you better!” were his opening words to me.
My mouth fell open like an open cast mine being blown. “Excuse me!” I said.
“We need to talk’” John said, before I had a chance to say anything else. “Let me show you how to use your special skill, to make you money and put the people you’re talking with in a far better financial position.”
That conversation was 10 years ago.
John taught me the real essence of interviewing and really helping people.
“Tell people your story,” he said to me. “People want real people to look after them, and help them. They want to see the human side of you. Introduce yourself so they know your background. It’s your credibility speech to them.” This was new. Apart from my rank and name, no criminal knew anything about me, apart from the fact I had a ‘brother.’
“Listen to their story, and ask them what value they require from you.”
“Value,” I said, looking at him incredulously. “Why do I want to do that? Let’s just sell them the product, and move on to the next person!”
“No, no,” admonished John. “We don’t sell product. Product is dead. We sell dreams. The dream of being put in a better financial position. Let’s be different and really look after the client by providing exactly what they want, because you have listened carefully to what they want. Show them what you have, and how you can help them be better off,” advised John. “Just like you did in the Police, when you were looking for a chink in the armour of the criminal,” John said.
John taught me how to understand and elicit the ‘needs and wants’ of a client. Again my brother came to the fore, because he had been bankrupt, in debt, financially illiterate, and unable to manage money. Whatever the client was going through, I told them ‘my brother’ had been through it as well. He had come out of whatever affliction it was and I said to the client, “you too can resolve this issue you’re in if you do what my brother did!” I would outline the process for that particular client to get out of their financial predicament and run it past John.
John taught me how to get recommendations through the use of 33 pre-determined words. Not only did it ensure my business was profitable, it also meant that I could help more people, and more families were helped along the road to financial freedom and success.
All through this process, my interviewing skills learnt in the Police and the use of ‘my brother’ to create empathy with the client, were integral factors in my approach when dealing with people. I loved watching people grow in financial literacy and putting themselves in a far better financial position than prior to seeing me.
I asked John one day, “Why did you approach me to help run and develop your small business. I had only ever been a copper, with no financial business sense?” His reply stunned me. “You arrested my brother once, for a terrible crime he had committed,” he said, “and you approached him with empathy and understanding. You listened to him and you treated him with fairness and dignity, even though he had been a thug,” he replied. “You told my brother, that you also had had a brother who had been in a similar position to him.” He felt you understood him and wanted to help him, even though he had committed a terrible crime. These are the qualities I want in my business and any business would want,” said John. “That’s why I approached you in the first place. Our timing was right.”
I’m retired now, but I will never forget ‘my brother,’ and I will never forget what John taught me, when I didn’t think there was anything left to learn about interviewing.