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the best way to avoid a punch …

November 22, 2011

Ever had one of those days at work when anything that could go wrong did go wrong? Corporate woman with boxing gloves striking a man in a tie

I know someone who has had one of those weeks and they are the first to admit they didn’t handle it well.

Their team had gotten so close. They were almost across the line when the wheels started to fall off. First one and then another piece of the project they had spent months putting together seemed to disappear.

Listening to them tell their story you would think they had done it all pretty well – working to understand other people’s concerns and issues and looking for win-win opportunities. In  fact I think their team had found a solution to one particular problem that fell into the category of the being a whole lot greater than the sum of the parts. They were actively engaging and were sharing information. They knew that they were trying to negotiate organisational change – a new approach – so they weren’t expecting it to be easy.

But when it all started falling apart they started to act to protect what was left. As more fell away they fought harder to protect what remained – trying everything they could think of to gain some control over the situation.  Nothing they did seemed to do any good.

That was where I think they made their mistake.

William Ury in his book Getting Past No says that in situations like that the first thing you should do is “go to the balcony”.  Going to the balcony is a metaphor he uses to describe the emotional disconnect you should have instead of reacting to the conflict that arises in any negotiation. You can see Ury talk about it during a recent TED talk here:

In their book The Randori Principles, David Baum and Jim Hassinger have similar advice for when you start feeling like you are losing control. They call it “getting off the mat”. You walk away.

But that does not mean that you give up.

It means that you disengage while still remaining completely present. It means ending a conversation if the other person is disrespectful or not willing to collaborate. It means waiting until the other parties involved are ready. Sometimes it means that it is time to let go of what you have worked hard to create.

It seems counter-intuitive but if you continue to grab on to things to try to hold them in place you will become stuck and unable to move. Worse you give somebody else the power to use the thing you are holding on to to move you to places you might not want to go. If you let yourself become focused on the fist that is heading your way you narrow down your awareness and increase the chance that you are going to get hit.

A better course of action is to widen your focus and try to take in the big picture. Let go of any fixed positions and, if need be, purposefully decide to stay true to your values and step off the mat for a while. You can always step back on again.

It is the same advice that Mr Miyagi offered all those years ago in the original Karate Kid movie.

The best way to avoid a punch … is to no be there.


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