What Drug Dealers Taught Me About Trust | Pamela Barnum | TEDxCollingwood

What Drug Dealers Taught Me About Trust | Pamela Barnum | TEDxCollingwood

Translator: Natalia Batchenkova
Reviewer: Claire Ghyselen Can I trust you? This question has the potential
to impact every part of our lives, from who we love to how we learn, how we take care of our health
and invest our money. And, if mastered, building trust strengthens relationships and can improve our health
and lead to more financial success. Now, it may seem strange
to learn about trust from someone who spent an entire career pretending to be someone she wasn’t. For years, I woke up
and stepped into an underworld, and sometimes in leather pants, that could not know who I was. Being beaten, raped
or even killed were possibilities if that was the day
a drug dealer found out that I … … was an undercover police officer. What’s even stranger
is that, unlike in the movies, I rarely carried a gun, and I never wore a wire for my protection. Trust – and the ability to build
and maintain trust – was the only weapon I used. My goal is to present
a learnable skill to you so that you can then build
the foundation of trust around everything you do
because when you leverage trust hacks, it makes risky, stressful relationships easier, even the ones with your in-laws. Before I became
an undercover officer, I had to attend this intense
training course. You take it and you learn about
techniques on how to use drugs, and what the pricing is,
and the terminology, and you learn about building trust. Although they don’t call it
“trust building,” that’s essentially what you learn. And you have to learn it
in really uncomfortable and often unpredictable situations. So for example, tough biker-looking
officers are taken to gay bars, and young female rookie officers,
are taken to busy strip clubs. Now, it’s been quite a few years, so If you’re having trouble
connecting the dots, I was the one who went
to the busy strip clubs. About 48 hours remained in a long term, about 10-month-long
undercover project, and we were getting ready
for all of our rips. And rips are essentially
what they sound like. You order up a large quantity of drugs, and then you go to meet the dealer
and you rip them off. Sounds fun, right? It usually is, unless it means you have
to jump out of a moving car being driven by a really
angry drug dealer. When that happens,
it’s nothing like on TV. I didn’t roll and tuck
and gracefully spring into action. I just fell out, like a bag of cement. Later on, a drug dealer was calling
and threatening to kill my partner. My partner was actually an undercover
officer that I met for the very first time when we were assigned to live
together as husband and wife. Now undercover eventually
went under the covers and we got married for real
at the end of the project. (Laughter) We call it our “government
prearranged marriage,” and I’m happy to report
that almost two decades later, we are still in a happy
and very trusting relationship, and no one has called and threatened
to kill him, at least recently. So, life has progressed quite happily. Now, when you’re thinking
about these trust hacks, you’re wondering “Do I have to put myself
in danger to learn this?” Absolutely not. Just think of me as your stunt double as we journey through
some examples of trust hacks. Keep in mind that I have
changed the names to protect the not-so-innocent. Julie – not her real name – was a full time bartender
and a part-time drug dealer who had connections to the Hell’s Angels. But that’s not what made her
so interesting. Every night, I’d go to the bar
and I’d sit and listen, trying to overhear conversations
that’d provide some perspective and information
about the local drug scene. I learned a lot about that,
but what I learned even more was how to become
an effective, active listener. Julie was incredible at this. She would lean in and ask
questions for clarification; she’d nod and utter affirmations,
mirror their body language, and as a result she has built
some really great relationships and got a lot of information. But the piece that really
stood out for me, because all of those are great
ingredients for a wonderful listener, but the piece that really stood out was that Julie let go
of all pre-judgement. She didn’t pre-judge anyone
when she was speaking with them. And when we let go of pre-conceived ideas
about what a drug dealer should be like, or what our spouse, our kids,
our partners, co-workers should be like, we make room for new ideas. And even more importantly, we build a bridge of trust that enables the other person
to feel heard and valued. Although active listening
is an important trust hack, it’s also one of the easiest,
yet least frequently used hacks. I use all of the techniques
that I learned from Julie when I started to connect with her. And as a result, I became
Julie’s trusted confidante and she introduced me to Frank, the dealer with the biker connections. And after being introduced on the phone,
we decided to set up a meeting. So, I go to Frank’s “place of business” which is this huge Victorian home
that now was a flophouse. If you’ve ever seen a horror flick
or been to a haunted house, maybe you’re able to visualize
this once grand old mansion that had become a flophouse. But what you’re not able to appreciate is the smell. Think old cat urine, bacon grease,
stale beer, and human waste, all blended into this overwhelming stench
that greets you at the front door. As I’m climbing three flights
of very dimly lit stairs, every step I take creeks, announcing to anyone listening – and they didn’t even have
to be actively listening – that I was approaching. Drug dealers are a funny group
of business people. They don’t like unannounced visitors
at their place of business. So I thought it best that I let them
know that I was coming. “Hi!” I called up the stairs, in my best “I’m-a-badass-
drug-dealer” voice, although I sounded more like the hotel
chambermaid calling “Housekeeping!”. But I continued moving forward, and with every step I took, I reminded myself: “I’ve got this.” When I finally reached the door,
and I was about to knock, it opens, so, I take a step in. Then it quickly closes behind me. I can hear the deadbolt turn
and a chain slide across, locking me in. When my eyes finally adjust,
I see the guy who had locked me in. He was at least six inches taller,
150 pounds heavier. He wore a bandanna,
a black leather biker vest, and jeans that even a plumber would know
needed to be pulled back up. Then, all of a sudden, I feel
pressure up against me. I look down and see this huge dog with his snout and his drool everywhere. There are two other guys who look remarkably similar
to Thing One and Thing Two, at a table, packaging cocaine, with
another of Satan’s hounds at their feet. There are three dogs … well, three drug dealers, two dogs, guns, drugs, and me. So I pull out the only weapon I have,
the trust hack of confidence. I get into the zone. I stood tall, hands on my hips,
feet shoulder-width apart. Think of Wonder Woman without
the impractical bodysuit or crown, although the Truth lasso
would have been a really nice touch. I look over. “Frank?” Thing One,”Yeah, you’re Pam?” “Uh, yes. Do you have my package?” Within moments, he’s handing me an ounce
of cocaine and I give him $1,600 and almost simultaneously,
I hear the chain come off the slide, the deadbolt turn and the door opens, Sounding nothing
like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I said,”I’ll be back for more.” I took the time coming up the stairs
to build my confidence by repeating positive
affirmations like: “I’ve got this.” I slowed my breathing
and not just because of the stench. Once inside, I realized that I was
outnumbered and unarmed, but I didn’t focus on negative what-ifs. Instead I chose to remind myself about all of the successful and safe
drug deals I had already made. Now, most of you will never be locked
in a drug house with armed drug dealers. But many of you will face risks
and challenges every day, that requires confidence
to build trusting relationships. And I would encourage you
to think about a time where you had to act
in the face of uncertainty, or fear, or even danger, and you did it anyway. You all have examples of that. So the next time
you’re facing a challenge, and you need to move forward, use those past accomplishments
as a reminder of what you’re capable of, and allow that to push you
toward the unknown. Now, confidence is a very
powerful trust hack. But you take trust building
to the next level when you pair it with empathy. Sherry was at the beginning of her
drug dealing career when I met her. And she shared with me, during one evening
of packaging cocaine at her place, that she came from a history of abuse, which is a very similar story
for a lot of women who become involved
in the drug industry. And as we’re packaging this cocaine, if you can visualize this coffee table
with little piles of cocaine, and we have the pestle and mortar,
and we’re crushing everything, and we’re measuring out the baggies, Sherry’s cat comes walking toward us. Sherry looks over,
“Don’t let my cat near the coke! Last time he ate some
and he was whacked for weeks!” However, the months go by, and it’s actually Sherry
who’s using a lot of cocaine because she’s whacked for months, and she accumulates a debt
that she cannot pay. She ends up getting
kicked out of her apartment and calls me in a panic. “Pam, you’ve got to come and take Kitty. I’ve got a place to couchsurf
but they won’t let me bring Kitty. You’re the only person
I trust to watch him.” (Sighs) I took the cat, but it complicated a lot of things. First of all, I was an undercover police officer
who had gathered enough evidence that Sherry was likely facing
a very lengthy prison sentence. She wouldn’t be needing
an apartment any time soon and she certainly wouldn’t be
bringing her cat. Secondly, we were just days away,
not weeks, but days from arresting her and dozens of other drug dealers
who had sold to my partner and I. What was I going to do with this cat? Cocaine Kitty was not a part of my plan. But I recognized how important
Kitty was to Sherry, so I worked hard to make arrangements for Kitty to be taken care of
at the end of the project. Now on Take Down Day, all of the accused
are arrested simultaneously in a series of pre-dawn raids. And then they’re brought
to the police station where they come into an interview
room one by one, and meet with the undercover officer who they thought was a fellow drug dealer. You can imagine what that’s like
from both perspectives. Some people come into the room, see you, and are so shocked
that they are speechless. Others start crying and sobbing because they know what’s ahead. Most start yelling
and swearing and cursing, and you’re so grateful
that they are handcuffed. Sherry just sat in her chair,
looked up at me and said, “Thanks for looking after Kitty.” I learned about trust hacks working
one on one, or in groups of people, but everything happened in person. And our world has changed considerably with the onset of everything
happening online, including the majority
of our communications. When people can hide behind a screen, they’re not as accountable
as they are in person. In a very noisy space, filled with countless tweets,
blogs, emails, shares and likes, it’s easy to stop listening. But the trust hack of active listening
is even more important online. And you can demonstrate it when you respond
to someone in a timely fashion. It shows that you’re
interested and engaged. And when you respond
with a conversational tone, it provides context and clarity, and that goes even farther
toward building trust. We can demonstrate confidence online when we refuse to participate
in the comparison game that so many people fall prey to,
on social media. Confident people know their worth. They don’t need to compare
themselves with others. Instead they shine a light on others. With a virtual world, filled with cyberbullies, trolls, and detached voyeurs, building trust is even more critical. We have the opportunity, with our limitless access to friends and even strangers
around the world, to mirror the compassionate environment that we all deserve to live in. My hope is that you choose to ignore the Dooms Day headlines
about a post-trust era, and instead start looking for ways to experiment with trust hacks
and work toward building trust. Imagine the ripple effect, if each of us worked more
toward building trust instead out of shouting
that it no longer exists. Because we need to make
a purposeful and concerted effort to build trust along every step
of our journey. To think otherwise leaves so much behind. We have it within our power, today, to begin a revolution of trust. It begins with trust hacks
and it begins with me and you. Thank you. (Applause)

About the Author: Michael Flood


  1. The comment section is brutal, and rightfully so. She came here to brag about the vulnerable women she betrayed who’s brain was damaged by drugs.


  3. The war on drugs was formulated to give people jobs this is why Jay-z and Michael Jordan are investing in jails.

  4. I'm so thoroughly confused – how are you going to give a Ted talk about cultivating trust and then use your experience of being an undercover narcotics cop who in doing just that (cultivating trust in others) you essentially betrayed that very same trust you're now claiming to endorse? Huh? Clearly she ain't got real friends – a real friend would've mentioned that the story she offers in support of her ultimate point actually betrays it COMPLETELY. At the end, this is a story on how to NOT trust. Great job!

  5. One of those TEX clips where the comments actually more insightful than the lecture. Interesting there is a general feeling here that purposely betraying trust for a career is worse than being involved in supply of illegal drugs to consenting adults.
    Seems like attitudes to the 'war on drugs' have changed…

  6. Cops expect you to tell them the truth. They will lie to you to get it. Make any sense? Niether did her speech.

  7. Wait, so she's explaining how to build trust JUST to screw everyone who believes in you over in the long run?? That's definitely helpful to society. Smh. Wow. I'm so disappointed in Tedtalks.

  8. The right to deside what's going on in your head (wheather trough drugs or without them) is part of the right of free speech. Trust is about being able to speak freely without concerns. Someone who hasn't understood the principles of free speak and trust is not someone who's ideas should be spread.

  9. This woman don't know what she's talking about. Has nothing to do with trust. She is a tall blonde pretty girl and it's easy for a woman to do what she is talking about. There is no trust in drug dealing.

  10. She defiles trust. She is part of the anihilation of trust in our reality. They know not what they do. The end result is made foul by the method and the world becomes more devoid of meaning through self-righteous destruction. everybody loses.

  11. You cocksuckers are putting people away in record numbers- for non-violent VICTEMLESS crimes. Go home and wash your mouth out with buckshot.

  12. She was willing to pay 1600. For an OZ. Should have been a dead give away right there she's a cop. Could of got a QP for that.

  13. I never thought I'd be proud of a youtube comment thread. This woman is an absolute psychopath. This talk isn't about trust, it's about abusing trust. No one can be so nonchalant and cavalier about screwing people over unless they are completely detached.

  14. I don't get it… Whats the lesson here? Her story is about gaining trust and using it against the people that gave you their trust.. I'm confused 😕

  15. "A chain slides across…locking me in"
    No…dude just locks his door just like u do…he wasnt "locking you in"


  17. What if I told you we are all on and off undercover? …slides under the cover of the blanket and goes to sleep 😂

  18. if this was somebody from Ted's idea they should lose they're job for this one lmao this chick isn't doing a damn thing but making everybody question they're friendships present and future.. this bish might be able to give an effective discourse on Sun tsu's "art of war"

  19. Thee worst advice on trust, probably in the history of mankind. Thank you for reminding me why not to trust.

  20. Horrible talk. To her trust equals conning people. She gained Julie and Sherrie's trust and did what? Try to guide them away from the illegal activity they were doing? No. Undercover cop and then a prosecutor? Unreal. She's hideous.

  21. To me this was dumbfolding and actually also quite infuriating. What I do not get is how a person being in her right mind can come to the conclusion of being fit to give a TedTalk about trust after having made a living of betraying people.

  22. this is deception
    all those non-violent ppl, you caused so much pain (yes, not all drug dealers are non-violent but most I met were)
    Karma comes back

  23. I trusted her to stay on topic, but she wandered away and I didnt learn anything about trust from her. But I feel like I was tricked into listening. So maybe the lesson was "trust as a weapon?" She should probably take the trust theme out of the description.

  24. You're the reason drug dealers have to be scary. No amount of fighting the market will ever squish it. If people want something enough to pay for it someone will sell it. Locking them up just costs taxpayer money. You wanna know what would be cool? Legalize them and tax them. Ruining lives over nonviolent crimes is unacceptable. You talk about them like they aren't even people.

    Some of the nicest people I've ever met sold drugs. I'm talking about people that volunteer at food shelters, people that take homeless people out to eat, people that fed me and paid my rent when I lost my job. They're not monsters and the ones that sell hard drugs usually are addicted to them and sell them so they don't have to steal from people.

  25. Aside from all the problems mentioned in others comments, maybe less(failed) attempts at humor during this talk would have made it better?

  26. All I took from that is $55 a gram, which is good if that's all you're buying, but homeboy really should've incentivized a volume buy like that and taken off a couple dollars from each gram.

    but I ALSO learn from those who share their own experiences.

    This is a must, as stories and music shape "perception."

    Thanks for sharing this…

  28. Is this woman crazy she's kind of freaking me out.. I don't trust her.. I don't know how people like this and people that support it live with themselves.. It's such a scam

  29. 🖕🏼”not so innocent” your the one that’s no so innocent fuckin sheep, this is a joke, learn how to think for yourself

  30. The war on drugs is a sham. CIA are the biggest drug dealers and they get away with it. A study of drugs confiscated in New York City show that the drugs were stolen by the police once they were confiscated. Her work accomplished very little for society. I agree with the other comments on this website. The speech should be about betrayal.

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