In this article, I’m going to touch on a few issues regarding communication in the executive protection setting. Communication itself is so vast a subject that one could write a book about it, and many have. In this article, however, I would like to share some points from my own experience, things that are not necessarily taught in protection training schools, but comes from the reality of the job itself. The ideas discussed here are written from the viewpoint of a corporate, executive protection operator, here in the Nordic countries, so please bear that in mind as there could be some slight variation between nationalities.
One thing I have learned over many years in this industry is that the terms used in protection work have been pretty much standardized these days. No matter where you have taken your EP/CP training, the chances are, we are using pretty much the same vocabulary. That said, you want to make sure that we’re all working from the same script. This is especially important when working with non-native English speakers, like myself, or whenever individuals are working together for the first time. It is the responsibility of the team leader to make sure, in the briefings, that everybody is on the same page and has understood the message correctly.
The team leader has an important job in creating a culture of good communication for a protection detail. If the detail is established and has been running for a while, the communication culture will mould itself over time. On a detail that runs only a few days or so, it becomes more difficult to establish good communication culture.
One important thing to realize is that the principal is the key figure in shaping the culture. Not all principals are the same. I have experience of principals that don’t want to see or hear the protectors. In that scenario, you can’t talk tactically into your sleeve when in close proximity of a principal. The same kind of principals usually don’t like to hear military terms used, after all, you are in a corporate environment and not on the battlefield. In these instances, I will use a cell phone and try to avoid any tactical terms, instead just concentrating on blending in with the corporate environment. I will often implement a routine whereby the protector closest to the principal attempts to communicate the least and some other member of the detail becomes the designated communicator, signalling to the rest of the team the movements and such like. Using a method like this draws less attention to your principal and the protector can concentrate on being aware and ready.
KNOW YOUR TOOLS
New protectors tend to be nervous around a principal. This is normal and to be expected when you don’t have experience and especially if the principal is high level or a well-known individual. If you find yourself in this situation then one thing I recommend is – get to know your equipment, so you don’t have to continually check if everything’s ok. When operators are nervous and not confident about their equipment they tend to touch their earpiece all the time. In my opinion, this is a definite indicator of nervousness and also looks rather unprofessional. The earpiece is meant to be, at the very least, semi-covert, so you don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to it or to the fact that you’re there as a protector. Nothing looks more unprofessional than seeing an operator walking in circles, constantly adjusting their gear. You have to remember that you represent the principal and people will be judging you on your professional demeanour.
One of the most important duties of a team leader is keeping everybody on the team motivated. I have found that the number one motivation killer occurs when you are not given information. In a team everybody is important. Naturally, there are different roles and different positions which require a variety of skills within a team, but don’t ignore the team members who might not have one of the ‘flashy positions’. I remember many occasions when I have been at a venue and only met my appointed team members minutes before the principal was due to arrive. When in team lead role, I will try to ask every team member for status checks, every now and then just to keep them in the loop and so they have a picture of what is going on that they might not be able to see. This simple act can make you feel like you are part of the team while keeping you informed of the bigger picture. The flip side of this is when you have strict OpSec conditions and trying to keep things to a need to know basis only.
Many protections courses will advocate the importance of using code words and stress the need to encrypt your whereabouts and allocate code names for every member of the team. I agree on some aspects of this, but in my opinion and from my own experience I have found that training establishments tend to exaggerate these things way too much. For instance, in the majority of protection jobs I’ve worked on, I have used real first names, rather than a calling sign for different team members.
Where I would always advise the use of code words is for the name of the principal, venues and the main routes the team are using. But even then, just keep it simple and refer to the locations perhaps by numbers or colours, for example, “arriving in location blue in two minutes.”
EVERYTHING IS COMMUNICATION
Communication is not just how you talk to your team or what kind of radio protocols you use. You are assessed, for the most part, on how you communicate with others. Keep that in mind and strive to be professional with everybody you meet, particularly the executive assistant and other people close to the principal, they are the ones whose opinion is asked when the job is done. Communicate professionally in your e-mails and written material as well. And finally, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that you can always use a little humour and a smile can go a long way – just make sure you’re being interpreted correctly!
For most readers, these things will be a no-brainer, however, after observing many training courses, I have concluded, that many of them tend to exaggerate things unnecessarily. When young protectors graduate from these courses they have an unrealistic approach to communication. After all, this is a professional line of work, we are not actors in some action spy movie, and so there is no need to act like it!
Lessons Learned on Executive Protection Communication.
By Wille Heino
Gambeson is a security training & consulting company based in Finland specializing in Executive protection services. For more information go to: Gambeson.fi