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  • After 28 years of marriage, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear me say my husband I and get into arguments, at times. Usually, it ends up with a sarcastic “You’re right, I am wrong” response. For us, they are small conflict skirmishes. Arguments, in general, emphasize binary thinking with opposites: truth/lie; right/wrong; black/white; yes/no; either/or and so forth. Over recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic puts a spotlight on binary thinking here in the U.S. Recently, when discussing the Stay at Home, Work Safe orders extending into June, someone said to me “It doesn’t matter…everyone is out and about anyway” which I silently thought “It DOES matter.” I checked my defensive instinct to react, paused, and replied with “maybe there is some truth to that statement.” This strategy essentially kept the conversation from quickly irking my friend and escalating into the same old debate patterns.

    Binary thinking generally places each person in the argument on opposite sides of one another’s position. Oh, but to be right and win my argument! And yet, when I push my point where the other concedes, did I win? I must ask myself what the win is in being right…all the time especially when I know how it negatively impacts the relationship. It invalidates the other person’s point of view often making them feel unheard and not valued. A common conversation as of late is wearing masks out in public. It is one thing when a person chooses not to wear a mask because it is their right. When someone then says, “You should be wearing a mask!” when one believes they have a right not to wear a mask, the conversation quickly escalates into a conflict. And, we have already seen physical altercations and even people who have died as a result of these quickly heated disputes. I choose to wear a mask in public because of my weakened immune system to fight off COVID-19.

    The impact of this type of dualistic thinking and our engagement with others is often perceived as an attack, a verbal attack, and commonly followed by a defensive reaction.  It also limits our ability to listen for different perspectives, douses our curiosity, and blinds us to new ideas and possibilities.

    What do we do if we are on the receiving end of a verbal attack placing us in a position to fight, dismiss, or avoid the conversation altogether? As a novice Aikidoist, I have been practicing how to redirect verbal attacks. My motivation for pursuing Verbal Aikido is the self-mastery of redirecting these verbal conflict skirmishes without harming someone with my own words. It is about learning how to quickly “destabilize” the tension-filled attack to a conversation within a very short period in a couple of minutes. I have been applying a 3-step process guided by Luke Archer, master verbal Aikidoist and author of two Verbal Aikido books. The 3-step process is simple and yet the endless strategies require practice and time to master. The first step is learning how to find your center so when you are verbally attacked, you can find your balance quickly to engage the next two steps. And most importantly, this first step creates an open frame to listen. The second step is focused on seeking to understand the other person by “drawing out” and using empathetic listening. There are a number of short movements such as “Say more about what you mean” or “there may be some truth to that statement.” Another short movement I learned recently for this second step is to say in response to the verbal attack “That is one theory. Say more about where you learned this theory.” Then, listen for their understanding. The Aikidoist can then offer “Would you be willing to hear another perspective or theory?” Depending on how the other person responds, you can then move into the third step which is to offer an “Ai-Ki” as a way to rebalance the energy from escalation to conversation. The Aikidoist can say “How do you propose we move forward from this point?” or “If you are interested, let’s revisit and keep the dialogue going so we can fully understand each other. Would this work for you?” You can also say “Let’s agree to disagree.”

    As I continue to work on my green belt in Verbal Aikido, I am blessed to be guided by Luke Archer. Anyone is invited to try out Verbal Aikido techniques. We practice virtually almost every Wednesday using the concept of the dojo practice mat where we verbally spar with each other applying the 3-step process and trying out different movements and techniques. To join, simply go to Verbal Aikido – The Club to check out the weekly dates and times the group meets on Zoom.

    And, if you wish to get in-person training, I will be hosting Luke Archer with newSkool from France to conduct a two-day training in San Antonio this upcoming October. For more information, click HERE.

    Patricia “Pattie” Porter, LCSW, ACC, ABW

    CEO and Founder

    Conflict Connections, Inc.

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  • In my last blog post, Changing the Way We Handle Verbal Attacks, I shared that I began a journey in learning Verbal Aikido. What does it mean to learn the art of verbal self-defense? First, it means understanding the purpose and establishing a mindset behind this approach.

    Morihei Ueshiba (pronounced Mora-hAY-wAY E-shE-ba) the founder and creator of the martial art of Aikido stated: “True victory is victory over self.” Being able to master oneself in how we engage and diffuse a defensive verbal attack without a counterattack that is equally or more destructive than the original attack takes intention and practice.

    Aikido’s main principle supports neither combat nor aggression. In fact, Morihei Ueshiba firmly believed that this was the “..way of joining the peoples of the world together in peace.” Practitioners learn how to defend without harm to themselves and the attacker. The Japanese word “Ai” means harmony or balancing whereas “ki” is the energy force and “do” is the path. Ai-ki-do is the ‘path to balancing energy.’ In other words, being able to take the attacker’s negative energy and adeptly using your skills to shift the energy from negative, potentially escalating verbal exchange to a neutral or even positive shift. The shift would end the verbal exchange and potentially shift it to a mutual and constructive conversation.

    Luke Archer, the author of Verbal Aikido: The Art of Directing Verbal Attacks to a Balanced Outcome, and my teacher, shares in his book and training that the mindset is key to setting your intention for this type of practice. First, it is establishing a mindset of compassion and empathy for the other person. For most of us, when we are being verbally attacked, we go into automatic pilot which means a lack of empathy from where the other person is coming from and why they are attacking in the first place. I know for myself personally, my mindset goes into gear with irritation and viewing the other person as an annoying problem or even threat. In that moment, I don’t see that person as human who is hurting or in fear. They are protecting some vital part of themselves. Second, it is important to understand we are trying to assist the other person to remain standing if you will, and ‘save face.’ You might be saying to yourself right now, “Are you kidding me? I need to protect myself too.” And yet, here is the problem. By reacting or counter-attacking with criticism, name-calling, blaming, etc., we are contributing to the problem and potentially making it worse. No one walks away feeling good about the encounter. It is not about winning or being right, it is about making a choice, remaining calm, and engaging the other person peacefully. “It is a way to live in harmony with others.”

    Watch why I took the Verbal Aikido training with Luke Archer.  

    Patricia M. Porter, LCSW, ACC

    CEO and Founder
    Conflict Connections, Inc.

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  • Angry man photo by Pixabay

    This is what you hear “You are late again!”  or “You keep making mistakes…FIX IT!” or “You never listen to me!” All of these statements are examples of a verbal attack. One of my personal challenges is how to deflect and master my in-the-moment reactions to verbal attacks. I don’t know about you but I can be very sensitive to unexpected and unwelcomed verbal attacks and without pausing or thinking, snap sarcastically and defend myself and sometimes with vigor. Then, I feel ashamed that I reacted so strongly given my professional study and work.

    Most of my readers and podcast listeners know me as 25-year conflict management and resolution expert. And yet, I recognize the areas of communication struggle in my personal life. When I am working as a neutral or even teaching, training, facilitating or coaching, I have mastered remaining calm in the face of verbal assaults. It is a natural part of my conflict resolution work for people to displace their anger or frustration about the person or situation, they are in conflict with and yet, I have failed to master this at home with close interpersonal relationships.

    I decided last year to purposefully pursue changing this destructive habit in my personal life. How do I catch myself in the moment from being impulsive, saying things that are hurtful or judgmental? How can I prevent a seemingly small incident from erupting into an emotionally-charged argument and see it grow into a conflict?

    I went back into my Texas Conflict Coach® podcast library to revisit the work of Luke Archer on Verbal Aikido: Manage Verbal Attacks Peacefully and Effectively. I contacted him in late 2017 to revisit his work and invite him to be a guest expert on the Challenging Workplace Behavior Summit launched in 2018. It would be to my surprise when Luke informed me, he would be in Texas training Verbal Aikido principles and techniques at Sam Houston State University (SMSU) in October 2018 during Conflict Resolution Week. This week sponsored by Gene Roberts, Director of Student Legal and Mediation Services is a colleague. He and I both served back to back as Presidents of the Texas Association for Mediators (TAM). Gene invited me to be the keynote speaker for SHSU during the week and join Luke Archer’s training. It was a serendipitous moment. I felt blessed to be part of this week and meet Luke for the first time.

    After the initial 2-day training, it was crystal clear that this would take practice and guidance by an expert. Luke offers a virtual “dojo” or practices mat to verbally spar with partners using the 3-step process we learned in training. We not only learn how to ground our basic foundation but we learn additional strategies to carry out each of the three steps. It is fun meeting people from different countries to practice around real-life examples.

    My next few blog posts will focus on my journey, stumbles, strengths and insights into mastering verbal self-defense.

    Patricia M. Porter, LCSW, ACC
    CEO and Founder
    Conflict Connections, Inc.

    Leave a Reply


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