Today I want to direct you toward the intersection of conflict resolution and Aikido – specifically, the work of Judy Ringer from New Hampshire.
A few years ago I had the immense pleasure of participating in a workshop given by Judy, a conflict resolution coach and teacher who holds a second-degree black belt holder in the martial art Aikido. Inspiringly, Judy weaves the mind/body principles from Aikido into her conflict resolution work and teaching. Developed in the twentieth century, Judy notes on her website, Aikido was conceived as a “martial art that would disarm an attack without harming.” The aim of the practice was “not merely self-defense, but a new way to reconcile differences.” Given this core principal, Judy notes, “Aikido provides an elegant metaphor and teaching tool in conflict and communication skill-building, offering a variety of ways to incorporate its principles. Participants enjoy watching the flow of Aikido and feeling their reactive patterns shift.”
During the workshop, participants practiced physical exercises rooted in Aikido moves that were designed to help us internalize how that subtle shifts can change the direction of an interaction, and how flowing with the energy of the person with whom we are in conflict can have a more powerful result than fighting against. Watch this video (also on Judy’s website) to see her and hear her in action and get a sense of the core of the principles she teaches.
Judy has written one of my favorite conflict resolution “how to” articles, “We Have to Talk: A Step-By-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations.” I give this article out to many of my clients, because Judy has elegantly and succinctly captured both the important preliminary internal inquiry as well as the internal/external posture and interactions that can help make these difficult conversations productive and satisfying. I particularly appreciate how Judy underscores that conflict just IS, it isn’t something negative, and emphasizes seeing exchanges between people as energy, rather than as ideas, or perspectives, or positions that need to be understood or persuasive or won. We can argue about facts and positions all day, but at the end of the day what helps us during a difficult conversation is being willing to engage in that exchange of energy without fighting against it. As Judy notes, “A successful outcome will depend on two things: how you are and what you say. How you are (centered, supportive, curious, problem-solving) will greatly influence what you say.” Consider this (and her other steps) the next time you begin a “we have to talk” kind of conversation.