Eric B. Maddox: Interrogator-in-Chief
As we dig deep into the lives of the highest echelon of entrepreneurial spirits, whatever be their pursuit, certain consistent characteristics emerge to explain their success. Early influences, work ethic, grit, positivity and a never-say-die mindset are all part of their recipe, no doubt. However, another less-appreciated “learned skill” is making an appearance time-and-again. In our noisy world that never stops talking, it is the art of patient, empathetic listening.
Eric Maddox is famously known as the man whose investigatory techniques were most responsible for the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein in war-torn Iraq. But he is much more than that. Let’s dig beneath the surface to discover the core of this warrior’s incomparable life-force.
An Empathetic Warrior in Service
When most young people are a few months away from graduating college, they are busy studying for finals, getting their cap and gown ordered, securing tickets to the ceremony, attending various celebrations across campus (i.e. keg parties), and planning for life beyond the safe campus confines, also called “the real world.” These may all describe Maddox, with one minor nuance. In 1994, with his degree from the University of Oklahoma nearly framed on his wall, he was with an on-campus recruiter enlisting in the U.S. military. A few months later, he was jumping out of airplanes as a new enlistee in the 82ndAirborne Division. Clearly, his vision of the “real world” differed from most of his peers.
Adopted as a child, Maddox, at the age of nineteen, set about finding his birth mother. In spite of hitting one obstacle after another, he never stopped asking questions and he never gave up hope. In finally tracking her down, he had been unwittingly preparing for his life’s purpose. Since those early days, this same grit and resiliency has been on display non-stop. When he commits to a mission, first he conquers it, then he masters it, and then he teaches it.
While at the 82ndAirborne Division, he successfully completed ranger school and eventually became a jumpmaster where he spent three years. He then re-enlisted as an interrogator and Chinese Mandarin linguist. Like many in his profession, the shocking and tragic events of 9-11 inalterably shifted his future role in national defense and security priorities.
Our armed forces’ rapt attention shifted resolutely to global terrorism’s base, the Middle East. Chinese linguistics expert or not, Maddox was soon assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in Iraq. His primary objective was to quickly collect completely accurate information toward his mission’s success, as he did in over three hundred crucial interrogations. In fact, he was so effective that his data collection directly led to the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Maddox is clear that his nation’s mission in Iraq was honorable, as it has always been, but he believes its interrogation methods were antiquated. He says it this way, “The techniques I was trained on didn’t work, and it wasn’t because I was a bad interrogator, they just didn’t work in this new type of warfare. The techniques that the Army emphasized were confrontational, threatening and intimidating, and they caused hopelessness rather than building trust.”
Instead, Maddox’s more compassionate and collaborative approach provided his prisoners with hope, allowing them to see the possibility of freedom and starting over. In those most despairing times, he moved fearful conversations to hopeful, and finally, to a bond of trust.
In earning his official ‘Legion of Merit’ citation, his contributions were acknowledged with the following statement, “Staff Sergeant Maddox’s distinctive accomplishments are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Joint Special Operations Command, and the United States Army.”
In addition, Maddox’s innovative methods of collecting critical information have shaped the future of intelligence procedures for both military and civilian law enforcement. After a ten-year stint as the first civilian interrogator at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, he retired from government service in 2014 to begin a career in the more lucrative world of corporate consultation.
An Empathetic Warrior in Business
Most humans are commonly afraid of certain undertakings. Maddox is no different. Fears prominent on his list include jumping out of an airplane, fighting in a ground war in a Middle Eastern country (or anywhere else), and public speaking in front of hundreds and even thousands of people. All three endeavors take uncommon guts and engaging in all three is a good definition of a warrior.
Several genuine warriors have turned their military experiences into successful second careers in corporate training. Uncommon courage can’t be passed along, you either have it or you don’t. But certainly, most people are coachable and can be taught methods and disciplines to improve their lives. And once again, Eric Maddox is on the front lines.
‘Interrogation’ and ‘negotiation’ skills share several attributes. To become a master at either, Maddox says, “you first must identify and address the needs of the person you’re intending to influence. If you do that successfully, they will address all your needs.” Be it a wartime interrogator, a financial advisor, or at a law firm, he says, “if you take care of them, they will take care of you.” So, how best to become a master interrogator?
An Empathetic Listener
“Good listening is paramount to successful communication,” says Maddox, “and you can’t be a good listener if you don’t have empathy. Putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes is the key.” He goes on to say that “empathy is to listening as water is to the human body. It’s everything.”
A piece of Maddox’s advice is this: listen with patient respect and understanding, not necessarily agreeing, but acknowledging and considering their points of view and grievances. If done genuinely, you’ll soon develop a bond of trust. His point seems so logical, so simple, how can someone build a lucrative career around teaching such basic concepts? The answer is too many people, be it in business, marriage, parenting or friendship, are simply not good listeners. The reason?
Effective listening is an “active skill” which requires our undivided focus. We can’t be thinking of our upcoming weekend, the mortgage payment due tomorrow, or glancing at our ever-dinging iPhones. I’m looking in the mirror right now, how about you? Or did you perhaps get distracted and stop ‘listening’ to this article?
Maddox believes “Listening is not an art, but a learned skill.” That’s good to hear (pun intended). So, how do we learn to listen effectively? In the ancient eastern art of karate, it’s called “Mind like Water.” Here’s how Maddox describes it:
“You have to clean your plate mentally. People tend to have things cluttering up their mind, they’re not listening to their clients, or partners, or whomever, in the small-talk conversations. Instead of building rapport, a bond of trust, which can only happen with empathetic listening, their minds are preoccupied with whatever it is they’re about to pitch.”
Ahh, there’s that word, “pitch.” Be it in business or relationships, we’re all pitching something. Even if it’s simply wanting to stay home and watch the ballgame instead of going out to dinner, it involves making a pitch, otherwise called ‘negotiation.’ As we progress through any day, notice how often we are pitching, or negotiating. When we’re not sleeping, we’re probably engaged in the practice. That’s why paying attention to Maddox’s message is so important.
“If you can clear your mind,” he further says, “your listening skills will triple. Your client (or partner) is telling you what they need, if you’ll just listen. Otherwise, you’re missing many of their clues.” Maddox believes there is a direct correlation between our ability and willingness to listen with empathy, and any successful outcome. So, he teaches the skill fervently.
Besides being a charismatic lecturer and effective teacher to audiences large and small, Maddox is also a best-selling author and engages regularly with clients and the general public on YouTube and other media outlets.
Using the experiences he gained in over 2700 interrogations, oftentimes with lives on the line, Eric Maddox continues to execute his mission no less intensely than when he was searching for his mother, jumping out of airplanes, or traversing the desolate Middle Eastern sands in search of the critical information he needed to keep his country safe from attack. As his career continues to ascend, we’ll surely be listening.