You paid thousands of dollars for training and thousands more on equipment, firearms and clothing. Add in the cost of travel, hotels, meals, time off of work and other expenses and you are finally qualified for work, according to you. But what does the Client value in a protector? It may be no surprise that interpersonal skills top the list. Good manners, eye contact, a firm handshake, a timely smile, and an expansive vocabulary are just the tip of the iceberg. Knowing how to negotiate, and more, knowing when to remain silent are also key to a Client choosing you over an ex-WPPS Private Military Contractor.
After decades in the protection industry, it is continually apparent that while “fieldcraft“ is absolutely valuable and indeed essential to a Client’s required prerequisites, it is the “intellectual” skillset with which the Client has the greatest exposure, (and hardest time finding).
Many laugh when first hearing about interpersonal skills in the personal protection industry. They believe that as long the client is safe, nothing else matters. We all know that we are getting paid for that 0,1% chance that may require us to respond to a threat and “save the client”, but the rest of our time will be spent interacting with the client, their family members, employees, domestic staff, and our own colleagues. And just as important are the paparazzi and the public, both of whom have cameras in hand. One wrong comment or gesture and the Client’s embarrassment results in your termination, and possibly a civil action.
Social interaction requires specific interpersonal skills. Your ability to react or reply appropriately is crucial. Using the wrong words with the wrong person and your years in the sand box or skill with firearms won’t save you. You will be fired within seconds. It happens every day and some of you won’t even know why.
Below we will try to give you some tips from ours as well as our colleagues experience and mistakes and even included some comments from past clients.
Your relationship with the client:
If you have any understanding of the industry at all, you know that you are with a client because someone within the client’s entourage has a fear that you have convinced them you can quash. In a combat zone, there is real fear of capture or death. In a large city in America, spy photos of the client out in public, drinking with friends, and in Mexico, Kidnapping. In many instances, you may be with the client 10 to 16 hours a day. So how do you spend that much time with them or their family, under that kind of stress without getting emotionally connected to them? Stick to the old adage: “Be seen and not heard”.
First of all keep in mind that the client is the one paying you, no matter how unrealistic his requests may be, you must adapt to his ‘’wants’’ and ‘’security needs’’. You may not be allowed to do what the job requires or have the manpower or equipment needed but you will have to adapt and do your job with what you have. You may be asked to be in position X and not Y because the client doesn’t feel comfortable otherwise. Consider too that it is also difficult for someone to get used to the idea of having strangers around them with every step they take and with every person they meet. Consider what you are doing that might be adding to or reducing their tension. Talking, staring, where you are standing, your cologne, or your actions can all add to a client’s frustrations.
The professional is one who can work with the difficult client, not the other way around. If you are lucky enough to work for that easy going client good for you, but most of the time you will have to deal with people that will test your limits. Have you ever had a client ask you to protect him but not to be within sight of him?
New professionals usually ask how they would deal with different challenges, like “what if the client asks me to have a drink with him”? What if the client asks you to do things that are out of your area of responsibility?
If you are a Close Protection Operative of the opposite sex of your client, then be prepared to deal with even more difficult situations. Traditionally mixing stress and fear with the comfort a protector can bring and the power and wealth of a client, (or his wife), and an opportunity……
Every one of us, client or Close Protection Operative (CPO), have different, social backgrounds and if you add to that different cultures then be ready to deal with more difficulties.
For many of us who have spent years in this business, (If we are successful enough to still be in this business), we have learned where our boundaries lie. If you are new in the business consider that boundaries exist for all of us. The client has them and so do you. When we are hired to protect a person, we are actually being allowed to step far inside their boundaries but they should not be allowed to step too far into ours. We will see a client in their most private and vulnerable moments, but what happens to our persona as “protector” if they see our weaknesses and vulnerabilities? And what happens if someone outside the client’s circle identifies our weaknesses or vulnerabilities?
How do we identify a client’s boundaries, and how do we educate them on ours? It’s really very simple; we ask. We should consider their social and moral code, their habits, vices and health issues and their fears. Sitting down with the client and discussing their needs and simply asking them where their boundaries are and letting them know ours is crucial to the success of a long term assignment. It may be no big deal for a client to ask you to enter a room where they are using drugs in a party setting or where he and his wife are in bed, but this may be beyond your comfort zone, (your boundary).
What is the difference between professionalism and friendship? Here is a simple rule: “You can’t buy friendship”. If you are being paid, you can’t be friends. If you want to be friends, stop taking the client’s money. Crossing the boundary between Professional and Friend is never successful.
From my personal experience I have found that when I was acting strictly professional the client was uncomfortable. Our task is to make them feel safe but when we appear ‘’untouchable’’ they believe we don’t understand their fears or what they’re going through. It is very important for them to feel we understand them. It is not easy to be the client….Sometimes they will open up and talk to us and we must show them we are listening. This is not friendship. This is part of our job.
If you get too friendly, then automatically your professionalism will suffer in your client’s eyes. Not because he doesn’t trust you anymore but because your laps in professionalism suggests to him that you won’t be taking your job as serious as is needed.
Consider how Psychologists work. They cannot offer professional counseling to people who are in their family or with whom they are friends. They certainly cannot start dating a client.
It is understood that you may share many hours with the client. Talk to him only when he talks to you or when you have to say something that affects his safety. Avoid starting a conversation but always be friendly if the client decides to speak to you. If you are asked a question, try to answer it with a single sentence.
Your relationship with the client’s family members will have to be the same. Don’t be too friendly with them or other staff or guests. Remember who hired you and why. Remember who cuts your check and who ultimately you serve. You should answer to only one person. If you assist or serve anyone else, it must be with the approval of the client and then only at no cost to them.
If you appear too unapproachable or “hard”, you will intimidate those you are serving. Too approachable and the family and everyone else will feel comfortable approaching you. And it will always happen when you need to be focused. Take a middle position with your client which is addressed with professionalism. Again, prior to accepting your contract you must clarify from whom you will be given orders and directions regarding your work.
As a CPO your job is to protect you client’s life and image. You are not there to carry their briefcase or shopping bags, etc. You also should not be carrying the client’s child on your hip, or holding doors open or performing domestic chores. Remember to keep your hands free.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” when you are asked to perform duties which are outside of your role. The client is hiring a CPO not a maître ’de or a butler. It is professional to politely refuse to perform a task outside of your agreed responsibilities instead of accepting it and putting in danger a client or your life. He has hired you to provide security services and nothing else.
The client must see you as an educated, well trained, experienced and professional person, and it is up to you alone to earn his respect. If your client respects you then any of your suggestions concerning his safety will be accepted by him positively.
Alcohol? NO, NEVER, EVER…..while working. But……
What if your client calls you for a drink or coffee while you’re not on duty? In this case you have to ask why he is calling you. Does he see you as a friend or do you think he wants something unrelated to work or to talk about your work? First, remain professional. If your client calls, you respond. Then avoid alcohol at all cost. Consider that in many countries and especially in the United States, if you are in possession of a firearm and you are questioned by police with alcohol in your system, you will be arrested.
Sometimes the most dangerous trap a CPO may fall into is to have a physical relationship with his client or the client’s spouse. Remember that movie where the bodyguard was sleeping with his client? Art sometimes copies life. Being emotionally involved with your client, (or anyone in their circle), no matter how unprofessional we see it, has happened with some colleagues. Understand that if this occurs, the CPO is always at fault. Because the client is dependent on you, they may be more likely to share raw emotion with you or let you all the way in to that last boundary, the personal physical boundary. Take advantage of this vulnerability and you are solely to blame. And if you think you found the love of your life, you will be replaced by the next person the client sees power or an emotional investment in. And who is going to write you that professional referral letter then?
Sexual Harassment is rampant in our profession. Male CPOs are approached by everyone who is attracted to the perceived power of the protector or by anyone trying to get to the client or get into the client’s circle. But if you are a female CPO it is much worse. You will get barraged from both males and females, clients, their family members, friends and then your colleagues. Additionally, sometimes due to culture, there are those who believe that because they hired you to protect them you are there also for ‘’extra services’’. There have been cases like these which have been unreported to authorities but are a common problem within the female CPO industry. Again, that sit down meeting with the client prior to taking the job is strongly suggested.
Your relationship with colleagues:
During our career we will have to work along with people who don’t share the same work ethic, qualifications, training and experience, background, morals or values with us. So whether we like or dislike someone, we shouldn’t allow it to affect our professionalism. Our first loyalty is the client’s safety and the study and mastering of the art and skill toward this goal. Our second loyalty is to the industry to which we have dedicated our lives. Loyalty to our colleagues falls within this, not the other way around.
As we all know, Close Protection is a profession that is unfortunately void of professional standards and requirements. Each country, and even each State has its own licensing or training requirements and in many cases no training is required at all. In light of this, you realize that you have to work to solidify a team with people who bring with them different experience, skills, training disciplines, standards, professionalism, culture, and ethics in the same way a sports team or elite military unit has to work through individual differences to become a uniquely cohesive team.
It is very important that each one on the team promote and maintain a strong working relationship with the others as well as the client, and of course other people who we may be in contact with (house personnel, office staff etc).
Some of the people you are working with may have more or less skill and may be younger or older. So in each situation you must address your issues with them with respect. Never offend anyone no matter the reason, never correct someone while anyone else in present. If you believe they made a mistake you can ask if he would mind a tip or advice. Not many people are open to advice from coworkers. If they refuse your help, respect it and leave it alone. If a colleague makes a sexual advance or even a comment that you are not comfortable with, address it quickly.
In our work it is very important when an issue occurs, to take immediate action to address it. Later you can do your research and as a team and correct it. As in any team, constructive criticism is meant to eliminate future problems.
Try to avoid conversations with your colleagues that include topics which trigger emotional responses like sports, religion, sex or politics. No conversation on these topics can contribute to your client’s safety.
Avoid discussion about family and do not share details about your family, spouse, kids or home life. You don’t know how the information may be used against you or your client later. Can you be blackmailed? Could this affect your client or team?
The only conversation you should entertain is the one that adds to your client’s safety.
Your relationship with fellow citizens and Law Enforcement:
In most countries your authority or legal ability to act is no more than any other citizen. Trying to get a free pass at the club or disturbing the peace will give you and your client a bad image. No you can’t stop the traffic, park whenever you want, stop people from entering in public places or ask to search them.
Many of our colleagues come from a Law Enforcement or Military background, they use to have their own language with their former colleagues and may work along with them or ask for their help. Remember that active Law Enforcement personnel have their own agendas. They are not part of our industry any more than we are part of theirs. Do not ask them to help you do your job. Some may abuse their authority and use it to get close to your client, and may even try to replace you. Be respectful and keep your distance.
Your networking activities
It is common and we see it almost every day in online networks or forums, people who hide behind a “screen” or “nickname” and make negative comments about other colleagues. It is seen by most as cowardly at best to make public comments about someone while hiding behind a false identity and further, without allowing the victim or viewing audience to verify the experience or credentials of the accuser.
Industry forums serve a couple of purposes. The first is to inform and the second is to allow comments and feedback for the purpose of informing. Unfortunately, they have become a place for the unimpressive to gain their 15 minutes of fame. These chronic complainers, seemingly have plenty of free time, (possibly due to their unemployment), and repair their egos by blaming or criticizing others. Yes, there are non-professionals and there are professionals, but a forum is not the right place to show who is who.
For those who like to comment on different articles or posts online (…that includes many of us…) before you hit “send” be sure you:
1) Read the article/post carefully. It is very disappointing to see colleagues who post a negative comment on an article when it is clear that they neither completely read nor completely understood it.
2) Offer a solid answer/opinion based on logical thoughts or facts (or evidence/search results). Recently, someone tried to show their disagreement with an author. Their only approach to a counter-point was insulting the author which actually proved the author’s point. Someone else tried to answer him by copying and pasting parts from the article and offering negative comments on the excerpts, which further proved the subject of the article; that some people in our industry can’t adapt their soldier mentality and behavior to the more polished corporate environment.
3) Answer in a manner that does not insult the writer or others.
4) Re-read and understand the article. Stating a disagreement is fine but following up with information that goes off topic and writing anything other than what is pertinent to the subject will only make you look stupid.
5) Read the article again,
6) Read your answer again from the perspective of your colleagues,
7) Read it once again from the perspective of someone who knows you,
8) If it doesn’t look professional/logical/in good taste or relative to the article provided, DO NOT hit that “send” button or “publish now” ….otherwise again, you will only end up looking stupid.
If you think companies and recruiting agents don’t look at a candidate’s networking profiles? Think again!
The bottom line is this:
If you lack professionalism on any level or lack interpersonal skills in dealing with people you work for, with or around, you will not be able to hide behind your experience, education or other skillsets.
Founder & Worldwide Director
The last days MEDIA have gone crazy after the so-called romantic relationship of the famous model Heidi Klum and her bodyguard and the fact if she was dating him while married to Seal or not. Now we are not the ones who will comment anyone’s else personal life but if we see it from our professional perspective we have to see if it’s wrong or not to be romantically connected with your client and why.
Personally and this is my own opinion, dating your client or any of his family members I see it as a very wrong and unprofessional. However it has happened before with many celebrities, some of those relationships ended well with a marriage (ANASTASIA) and some ended with revealing spicy clients details by his/her ex bodyguard to MEDIA after the relationship end.
Remember Kevin Costner in the Bodyguard movie? Oh yes art sometimes copy real life.
It is understood that you may have to spend many hours with the same person, your client, you will be in present in some of very important moment of his/her life and sometimes it is acceptable to get ‘’emotionally’’ connected. They will feel happy, sad, scared and you will be there and see all their emotional scales. Sometimes you would even need to act due to your professional duties to make them feel safer. We can’t judge someone’s heart, but we must make you aware that in a relationship like this someone has the upper hand (control) and someone is in a negative-vulnerable position and that’s the client. The fact that the client relies on you for his/her safety makes them ‘’depended’’ on you. Just imagine it as a relationship doctor-client, tutor-student.
However if you believe you found the love of your life on your client face, then leave it to someone else to take your professional role and you can always protect him/her from another perspective or role. The one of the life partner.
This will not only protect the person you are related too but also you.
It is important in our job to act objectively and not be affected by emotions that can ‘’block’’ our senses to do our job as we suppose to. And we all know very well how unprofessional or non logical ‘’love’’ can make us act sometimes.
Athena Academy Founder
During our career in security industry we will have to work along with people who don’t share the same work beliefs, qualifications, training and experience background with us. So even when we ‘like or dislike’ someone we shouldn’t never allow it to affect our professionalism and make us loose our target, which is client’s safety. If the client is safe then we and our team are safe too.
As we all know Close Protection is a profession that doesn’t have unfortunately until today, professional standards requirements. Each country, even each state has its own licensing requirements and in many times no training is required at all. So with this said, you can realize that you have to work and lock as a team with people who bring with them different experience, skills, training disciplines, standards, professionalism, culture, and ethics.
It is very important each one in the team to promote and maintain good communication and work cooperation with each other, the client, and of course other people who we may be in contact with (house personnel, office staff etc).
Some of the people you are working with may have more skills than you or less, may be younger or elder, so in each situation you must address your inquires to them with respect. Never offend anyone no matter the reason, never correct someone while there is anyone else in present. If you believe he did a mistake because of lack of experience or training you can ask if he/she will like you to give them some tips or advices. Not many people are open to get advices by others. If they refuse, respect it and leave it as it is.
In our work it is very important when an issue occurs instead of loosing time to find out why and how happened or whose fault is, to take immediate action and fix it. Later you can do your research within the team members and find out what happened, why and who is holding the responsibility for it. Finding who did the mistake is not for the reason to be put in the light spot and be blamed, but, inform, correct it and prevent any other similar issues in the future.
Have in mind if you are not the team leader or the supervisor then it is not your responsibility to call and talk with the person who acted unprofessionally or did a mistake. You can inform your supervisor or team leader about the fact of the incident, make sure you leave out ANY PERSONAL CHARACTERIZATIONS for your colleague who did wrong.
The main focus should be how you can operate as an individual within a team but also as a team member who its main target is clients and teams safety.
It is sad but very true and we see it almost every day in online networks or forums, people who hide behind a pc screen and a ‘’nickname’’ accuse colleagues or talk bad about them. First not professional at all, second it is not fair to accuse someone whose identity you have make sure is open and yours remain hidden and most important not able to be verified (your skills, experience, professional stand).
Personally I consider security industry forums, mostly as places for people who like to behave like crying babies, have plenty of free time (cause they are not working) and fill their lives with blaming others. Yes, definitely there are un-professionals and there are professionals as well, but a forum is not the right place to show who is who.
Be careful when you come to juxtaposition with others online, no matter the information or names they are using in networking places still you don’t know with whom you are talking with. Try to avoid those kinds of situations, and if not always try to be polite and not lose your temper. When someone is attacking you online have only one motivation, to break your inner self. Either is an ex colleague, a competitor or someone who want to fill his empty life with causing harm to those who are successful, always try not to feed them by reacting or responding to defend yourself. You, your colleagues and your clients knows who you are.
Closing one of my favorite sayings: IF YOU CANT CREATE IT, RESPECT IT
Athena Academy Founder
Sometimes maybe you wonder what kind of relationship you are allowed to have with your client because of the nature of your profession. You are spending many hours with him, sometimes good moments, sometimes bad. You are the one who is in presence in his important business meeting, or in his ‘’private and personal meetings’’. So what is the role of you in those kinds of situations?
I have been asked many times by new professionals how they can deal those kinds of challenges. ‘’what if my client asked me to go for a drink with him? Should I accept?’’ or ‘’ what if my client ask me to do things that are out of my responsibilities?’’.
If you are a female close protection operative then be prepared to deal with even more difficult situations.
First of all, it is very important and primary action when you accept a job proposal to do all the necessary Intel about your client’s case. Try to learn as many information you can about the client, his/her family and professional background, (in our days with the internet is very easy to gain a lot of information). Do your own research on the threat level, no matter what client is revealing about the threat he/she is dealing you need to do your own threat assessment based on your work education and experience, so you know what situation you are dealing and most important what is the threat level.
Times are hard and security industry is a cut throat work industry…but you must not accept any position just because someone is paying you well. Ask from your client to be honest with you, you are there not to make him reveal his secrets and feel embarrassing but to understand the true risks and take action. There are different risks levels for different people (pop stars, politicians, businessmen).
After you have done your threat assessment ask from your client to have a conversation, explain him the real situation, don’t hesitate that you will make him be afraid. He needs to know exactly what he is dealing with and what else he may need to do, or what different actions he need to take. After he has understood the threat level, explain him what are your responsibilities. Don’t rely on the fact he has worked before with previous close protection operatives and he will know. Also do not expect all your suggestions on security matter that will be taken into consideration from all the clients, some are open to hear from security professionals and trust their opinion, some let’s say will give you just few ‘’tools’’ to work with and you have to adjust to it.
During your working hours you have to be serious and pay attention on your duty, not paying attention to the lady at the bar.
You are not there to eavesdrop when your client has business meetings or any other dates. Whatever you see or hear during your duty remain secret. This is something you have to mention to your client. We don’t talk about our client’s personal life or professional details to others (remember how unprofessional is for some bodyguards to reveal their ex clients personal hot details to the press after they have been fired or quit, if you were in a need of a bodyguard would you hire someone like them? I’m sure you not). First is not ethical, second is not professional, third it will cost you your reputation in security industry.
Keep secret from others the identity of your client. Even if it is ex client, don’t brag about who your client was. If someone wants to hurt him he will come to you for details. So silence and privacy are the most important characteristic of your job.
As a close protection operative your job is to protect client’s life and image. You are not there to: take your clients clothes from laundry, carrying his briefcase, shopping bags, etc. How can you protect his life when you are carrying his briefcase? How long it will take you to drop the briefcase and take out your gun to shoot if it’s needed? It sound unprofessional but we are seeing it even today that some colleagues are doing it.
Don’t be afraid to say NO when you are asked to perform duties which are out of your role, the client is hiring a bodyguard not a maitre or a battler. It makes you more professional to deny something like this instead of accepting it and put in danger his and your life. He has hired you to provide security services not any other kind of services.
That’s why it is very important you earn your clients professional respect. He must see you as an educated, well trained, experienced and professional person, and that’s only up to you to earn it. If your client respects you then any of your suggestions over the work are will be accepted by him positively.
Now what about your relationship with your client? Should it be strictly professional or also include a friendly relationship?
To be honest being in this profession for 11 years now, I have found it hard to answer it myself. Every one of us, client or close protection operative, we are different, have different social background and if you add to that a different culture then be ready to deal more difficulties.
What I use to do far now is imagine there is a line, on the left is the Strictly Professional, and on the right is Friendly. I decide to operate somewhere in the middle. From my personal experience I found out when I was acting strictly professional the client was ‘’afraid’’, my position there was to make them feel safe but when you appear ‘’untouchable’’ they believe you don’t understand their fear or you don’t feel what they’re going through. It is very important for them to feel you understand them. Is not easy to be the client….Sometimes they will open up and talk to you and you must show you can hear them.
From the other side if you go on the right side and be Friendly…then automatically your professionalism level will be down on your client’s eyes, not because he doesn’t trust you anymore but because your professional suggestions in future won’t be dealing as in a serious way. Have in mind how Psychologists work, they cannot offer professional counseling to people who belong in their family or friends and one of the reasons is that’s because sometimes listening someone who is out of your environment and an expert in that specific part gives his words more credibility and makes him more reliable.
Not to mention if you pass the friendly level, your client will start to ask for favors or do things out of your duties again.
It is understood that you may have to have many hours with the same person, your client. Can you start and have a friendly chat or gossip? NO, talk to him only when he talks to you or you have to say something that include his safety. During the hours you are spending with him you may need to have lunch together, this is ok, but remember to pay at the beginning in case you need to leave quickly. Your relation also with his family members will have to be the same. Don’t look too friendly cause both of you will be emotional involved and maybe it can cost you your viability. Don’t look too untouchable because he will think you don’t care. Have a middle position toward your client which is addressed by professionalism.
Alcohol? Well we don’t have to mention why it is forbidden during your duty hours. But if your client calls you for a drink or coffee while you’re not on duty what would you do? In that case you have to have in mind why he is calling you? Does he see you as a friend or do you think he is flirting with you or he just want to talk about your work? You have to take the decision by using your common sense and professionalism.
And last but sometimes the most dangerous trap a close protection operative may fall is to have sexual relationship with his client or the client’s wife. Remember Kevin Costner in the Bodyguard movie sleeping with his client? Oh yes art sometimes copy real life.
Being emotionally involved with your client no matter how unprofessional we see it, it has happened with some colleagues. We can’t judge someone’s heart, but we must make you aware that in a relationship like this the one who is in a negative position is the client. And that’s because he/she is ‘’depended’’ on you. Just imagine it as a relationship doctor-client. However if you think you found the love of your life, someone else can take your professional place and you can always protect them from another perspective.
Now if you are a female close protection operative then you better be prepared to deal also with some cases of sexual harassment, either from your clients, their family members or even your colleagues. Sometimes there are people who believe that because they hired you to protect them you are there also for ‘’extra services’’ (that’s a belief some clients have in countries with a different cultural treatment on women). There have been cases like those which have been unreported to authorities but a common secret within female professionals. This is something that is up to you how you want to deal with and how far you want to go with it.
Athena Academy Founder
Recruitment and Development