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Respond to Verbal Attacks With Aikido

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When verbally attacked, how do you respond?

Fight? – You return fire.

Flight? – You retreat or grow quiet.

You may answer, “It depends.” If it’s your boss, an important client or customer, or someone in a position of authority or importance, you might say “flight.” If it’s someone else, you might say, “fight.”

There’s a better option than either fight or flight. It involves applying a verbal form of the Japanese martial art Aikido.

Developed by Morihei Ueshiba, Aikido means “the way of the harmonious spirit.” It differs from martial arts that train you to block an attack and respond with a counterstrike. Instead, you blend and flow with the attacker’s energy, channeling it and your attacker to a place where no one gets hurt.

Verbal Aikido follows the same principles as the physical form. Instead of blocking an attacking comment such as “That’s stupid!” with “No, it’s not!”, followed by a counterstrike, “You’re stupid!” you engage with your attacker while remaining centered, “Really? I’m curious. Let’s explore that.” Instead of meeting force with force, or with fear or capitulation, you move out of the line of attack and explore paths to peace. You remain balanced although your attacker may lose his or her balance given how unexpected your response is.

You can read an example here. And if you’re a lawyer or work with lawyers, you can read a legal system example here.

Verbal Aikido is not a set of techniques as much as it’s a paradigm to keep you centered when challenged or provoked, and to maximize your opportunity to find common ground and establish harmony. As Suzane Van Amburgh, Chief Instructor of Aikido Multnomah Aikikai puts it: “Aikido practice trains the practitioner to maintain a calm, centered presence when facing challenging people and stressful situations.”

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