Michael Frank: What are some of the biggest lies and myths about the FBI? And what shocked or surprised you the most when you joined?
LaRae Quy: Well like everybody else, I watched TV and movies and I saw FBI agents beat people into submission and interrogate them with all these techniques to get the truth.
I took an interrogation seminar and I expected the lid to be opened so I could peek into all the great ways that we could force and coerce people into confessing. And you know what? This guy who led the interrogation seminar, I mean he had a face that looked like it was chiseled from a piece of wood. It wasn’t a warm and fuzzy face, but he stood there and he said I’m going to tell you something:
“The secret to getting any answer you want is to develop a rapport, and if you can’t do that, you’ll never be a good interviewer let alone a good interrogator”
He said that’s the first place to start. You’ve got to build rapport. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a terrorist or a spy or a bank robber or a murderer, you’ve got to develop rapport. That is the first step.
That was an eye-opener for me because I just assumed that the movies and the books were right and that confessions could be beaten out of people, but they can’t. That’s the biggest joke of all. People confess because they need to unburden themselves, because you ask the right question, in the right way, at the right time.
In order to develop rapport with people you have to get to know them, and you have to get into their mindset and get to know what makes them tick, and you’ve got to understand why they believe what they believe, and what happened to them in their life that led them to this conclusion. And when you get that far, you develop a rapport with them.
And I tell you that probably more than anything has affected my outlook on people in general. So before I judge anybody too harshly, I try to put myself in their shoes to understand a little bit more about where they’re coming from.
MF: How do we actually go about developing mental toughness? What should we do specifically?
LQ: Most people think mental toughness is about bulldozing their way through obstacles and roadblocks. It’s not.
The first place to start with building mental toughness is developing self-awareness and emotional intelligence. You need to know, and be able to predict, how you’re going to respond under stress, and you need to be able to control that response and make sure that you respond in a way that you want, instead of just reacting emotionally from a place of anger or jealousy or whatever emotion is going through you.
You need to know how you’re going to respond when confronted in a stressful situation. Does your voice go high? Does it go low? Do you get quiet? Do you act inappropriately? Do you say the wrong thing? You need to know and be able to predict your response when an unknown situation throws itself in your face. That is the most important thing. You need to build self-awareness.
MF: How does one go about building self-awareness?
LQ: Everybody should have a petri dish. A petri dish is a safe place where you can experiment and get more experience and find out how you respond to different emotions as they arise in different situations.
You don’t want to wait until you’re in front of your boss or a colleague or a client to discover how you respond to anger, jealousy, stress or whatever emotion the situation is going to evoke in you.
I gave the Petri dish as an example, but I gotta tell you that those experiences won’t help you unless you stop to analyze them. I mean everybody needs to reflect upon the significance of their own stories and their own experiences because they make them who they are.
And if those experiences didn’t necessarily produce something that you’re proud of, or if there is something you wish you’d done differently, fine. Just face it, label it for what it is, don’t dwell on it, but admit it and learn from it. Look at it and say, okay, this is what I could do differently next time, but don’t get bogged down in self-criticism and pity.
MF: How do you go about controlling your focus and staying calm during a high-pressure situation, whether it’s a presentation, examination, or a life and death hostage negotiation?
LQ: Well I’ll give you an example. Growing up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming, I never learned how to swim. One of the requirements to get through the FBI academy was to jump off a high diving board into an Olympic sized pool with an M-16 and then swim to the other side. I remember getting to the top of the diving board knowing I couldn’t swim, and to make matters worse I discovered at that moment that I was afraid of heights. It was truly an “oh crap” moment. And so I stood there and I watched as even experienced swimmers came up gagging.
The only four-letter word I never heard in my 24 years in the FBI was “can’t”. And I really wanted to say I “can’t” make this jump. I can’t do it. I can’t swim. But I needed to roll with the punches. I needed to be resilient. I needed to step into the unknown. And that’s the whole purpose of the academy. They give you this mindset that you can throw me into any squad, anywhere, anytime, and I will land on my feet.
So instinctively I just started just ticking off reasons in my mind why I wouldn’t drown:
- My coach was there and he was an excellent swimmer
- The FBI wouldn’t want the lawsuit that my parents would launch against them if I drowned
- I’d never heard of an FBI agent trainee drowning
- I had a life vest if I wanted one
- I knew that the FBI was something I really wanted to do. It was important to me. This was my path. This was my future.
And so I took a deep breath and I jumped and I immediately sunk to the bottom because I was just all nerves, but then I came back up and I was still holding the weapon because that was part of the requirement, and then I more or less crawled on the bottom to the other side of the pool, but I made it. And so I graduated from the academy. But it was one of those things where I really had to focus on being positive. You just do what you have to do.
MF: One thing I find interesting is that you speak about the difference between optimism and positive thinking and you say that they are not the same. What’s the difference between optimism and positive thinking?
LQ: Oh, there is so much difference. Thank you for asking that question. Positive thinkers are not necessarily happy – or optimistic. Instead, positive thinkers are resilient, and that means they’re blunt realists, they will look misery right in the eye, and they will confront the most brutal facts of the day without expecting things to change, and they will adapt to their circumstances without ever losing hope.
In a nutshell: Positive thinkers believe that they will prevail in their circumstances, rather than believing their circumstances will change.
Admiral James Stockdale was captured during the Vietnam War, and he was a prisoner of war for seven and a half years, and he was tortured routinely. And when he was finally released the author James Collin asked him, who didn’t make it out alive?
And he said, oh, that’s easy, it was the optimists. They were the ones who said, oh, keep up your spirits, Christmas will be here and we’ll be out by Christmas. Christmas came and went. Then they’d say keep your spirits, we’ll be out by Easter. And then Easter came and went. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And eventually, they just died of a broken heart.
Positive thinkers are mentally tough and they make it through the day without expecting their circumstances to change, whereas optimists really do think things will change and get better. But they do not. I mean that’s just reality and I have to say that FBI arrests are not made hoping things will go well. In fact, we make all of our arrests by anticipating what can go wrong. We’re positive thinkers, but we’re also intelligent thinkers, and we prepare for all of that along the way. It doesn’t mean we’re negative people, it just means we’re realists.
MF: It sounds very much like the way that UFC fighters train. They train for the absolute worst-case scenario that can happen because they know that if they can handle the worst-case scenario, they can handle anything. The goodwill take care of itself.
LQ: That’s exactly right. And it’s smart to think that way. Whatever situation you find yourself, ask yourself: How could this go bad? And what should I do if it does? And how can I respond if it goes like this or this or this? And by the time you get done with that, if the response goes well, you’re like, oh my gosh, this is a piece of cake.
MF: It comes back to what you said about self-awareness. I love your quote too:
“Ignorance of your competition makes you vulnerable. Ignorance of yourself makes you stupid” – LaRae Quy
LQ: It is very, very true. I mean visualize how you will react when you’re criticized by a colleague or by your boss. Predict your performance in the morning meeting. Be prepared for the hard questions that your boss is likely to throw at you. Rehearse your responses to situations or conversations that might come up. That’s just being smart.
I have to say too that visualizing is not fantasy or wishful thinking and there is a big difference between the two. Your brain is not stupid. Your fantasies will actually lessen your chance for success because your brain can tell the difference, and it looks at fantasy as a threat. So visualize – but visualize realistically.