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Verbal Self-Defense Begins with a Mindset of Compassion and Empathy

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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When Life is All Work and No Play, It’s Time to Negotiate

vacation-cc0-public-domainMany employers offer a full range of benefits to their employees. However, many people find paid/unpaid personal time off (PTO) or vacation time as invaluable to meet their personal or family needs. Many times, employers do not provide adequate or sufficient time off for the varying needs of employees. For many of us, vacation time is essential to both rejuvenation and well-being. So, how do we address upfront and ask for what we need?  An often missed opportunity for many employees is to negotiate the terms of time off when they enter a new job.  In the Harvard Business Review article entitled “How to Negotiate for Vacation Time”, Deborah M. Kolb and Sharon. M Brady opens with 3 scenarios and then discuss 5 negotiation principles to use when bargaining for vacation time especially after long, intense hours of work.  To effectively negotiate, the authors suggest making decisions early about your own needs, learning about what is normal in the workplace culture, and showing empathy for your boss’s and other employee’s needs .

But what if you are already working at your job? Life is not all about work and no play. How do you negotiate extra time off, time off for special occasions, or even time off during very competitive holiday schedules?

Here are some recommendations for how you might approach a negotiation with your supervisor about time off from work.

  • Know your company’s policy about vacation and personal time off (PTO) as well as the available time you have accrued.
  • Think about how your request might impact your boss and co-workers. Consider what your boss and co-workers’ needs might be in anticipation of your time off and be prepared with alternative suggestions for your request.
  • Provide specific information about the reason for your request to help your supervisor understand its importance. For example, you might say “Our family is planning a very special trip with our grandmother. We expect this will be the last opportunity for all of us to get together and share a lifetime dream with her and to create lasting memories. I am asking to take 3 weeks off in the summer of 2017. I have more than enough time accrued and there is nothing in the company policy that restricts this request. I do have to ask permission and would appreciate your consideration.”
  • Listen carefully to your boss’s concerns and clarify needs by asking questions.
  • Respond first by acknowledging your supervisor’s concerns and then providing an alternative solution. Remember, you need your boss to grant you permission in order to get what you need. Using the above example, you might respond with “I understand that you are most concerned with covering schedules during from Memorial Day weekend through 4th of July. I would like to propose that I schedule our special vacation from the end of July to late August and be back in time for the hectic Labor Day weekend. This would be during our lower peak time.”

It is important to be prepared with an alternative. We often will not get what we want, but we can often get what we need. To do this, we have to know what that need is. And, it is also key that the boss hears you are working to meet his needs. He will be more open to negotiating with you. Finally, if you find yourself getting upset as you discuss the issue of time off with your boss or you sense his resistance to the request, take a break and take a breath. Keeping your cool is also a skilled practice when negotiating for what you need.

It is my hope that these tips are helpful and that you have a great upcoming week!

Ann Margaret Zelenka

Graduate Student Intern

University of Baltimore

Negotiations and Conflict Management M.S. Program

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Virtual Exchange: Renewing Civic Engagement at a Time of Unprecedented Interconnectedness

This episode is a special edition for the Association for Conflict Resolution’s (ACR) annual conference and virtual track.


waidehi-gokhalerangineh-azimzadeh-tosangIn a digitally connected world where diversity of identities is a reality which we must confront every time we log into our smart phones and social media accounts, academia has played a pioneering role in the way we learn how to be inclusive and embrace diversity.  Nevertheless, recent demonstrations across American campuses as well as the growing expressions of hate and violence in online space worldwide, make question the preparedness of traditional education methods to tackle the virtual multicultural world we live in. Grassroots intercultural dialogue programs between citizens living in different societies have flourished over the past decade as a response to the growing antagonism between some of those societies. Those programs aim at building mutual understanding and a sense of empathy among participants, creating bridges and fostering a new culture of constructive engagement between young citizens. Lately, online dialogue programs carried out by organizations like Soliya have received an official acknowledgment of their relevance in a fast changing world. Panelists involved as implementors of Soliya’s Connect Program will engage in an interactive discussion with participants on the lessons learned from Soliya’s 13 years experience, the current evolutions of dialogue processes and the value of virtual exchange as a growing field in the world of intercultural dialogue and conflict resolution education.


For more information or to apply as a facilitator, visit Soliya

Connect with Soliya:  Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

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Nurturing a Culture of Empathy in the Family


During the month of July please enjoy these previously recorded shows. We will return live on August 4th.

Edwin RutschIn our third episode of the series Conflict and Empathy: Where Has Empathy and Compassion Gone? Edwin Rutsch, Center for Building a Culture of Empathy and I will discuss how do we foster empathy in a family?   Edwin will share some personal stories of how he has personally fostered empathy in his extended family and how he used Restorative Empathy Circles to heal family conflicts.


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Lessons in Empathy –Tips on how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes

Clipart Illustration of Two Orange People On Blue Puzzle Pieces,When I was younger and in a conflict with a friend, I would always vent to my mom. I would often, as most of us do, blame the other person and make generalizations and assumptions about why my friend was acting, saying, and doing those things to me (always intentionally in my eyes). Once I would finish venting, my Mom would then take on the role of devil’s advocate. At the time, this drove me nuts because in my dramatic pre-teen/teen years, I just wanted her to take my side. I had no idea this little exercise she continuously did would end up benefiting me not only in my education but also in my life.

What is empathy and why is it important?

Merriam-Webster defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In other words, empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. In an article adapted from Bruna Martinuzzi’s book: The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow found on Mindtools.com he explains that empathy, “Allows us to create bonds of trust, it gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking; it helps us understand how or why others are reacting to situations, it sharpens our “people acumen” and it informs our decisions.” In a conflict, if you take the time to try and recognize where the other person is coming from, you can gain an alternative perspective.

How can you be more empathetic?

One step towards being more empathetic is to listen to the other person when they are speaking. Mike Robbins contributor to the HuffPost Healthy Living blog explains, “Asking people how they truly feel, what’s really going on in their world, AND listening to how they respond (without judgment) are some of the best things we can do to express our empathy for the people around us.” Often in conflict, we stop listening to one another because we are too absorbed in our thoughts and feelings or because we are preparing a response.

The next step suggested by Bruna Martinuzzi is, “Take a personal interest in people. Show people that you care, and [have a] genuine curiosity about their lives. Ask them questions about their hobbies, their challenges, their families, their aspirations.” By taking the time to ask questions and be inquisitive about the other person’s life, you are getting to know them and showing that you care, which builds trust and rapport and makes it easier to step into their shoes if a conflict should arise.

The final step suggested by Reginald Adkins, a contributor on LifeHack.org, to being more empathetic is to “Assure you’re understanding. Ask clarifying questions and restate what you perceive the speaker to be saying.” In order for you to be empathetic, you must make sure that you comprehend the message the person is trying to convey. Sometimes it can be helpful to regurgitate back to the person what you heard. If what you heard and what they said are not matching up, allow them to clarify further. While doing this may seem tedious, it ensures that no miscommunication occurs and that you have a clear understanding of that person’s perspective, which then allows you to be more empathetic.

It is always in hindsight that we can see the lessons our parents were trying to teach us. I can remember a time in college when I was in a conflict and I automatically stopped and thought, where are they coming from? In that moment, I recognized what my Mom had been doing all those years; she had been teaching me to be empathic.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student Intern,

University of Baltimore- Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Finding Forgiveness- Tips on how to forgive even when it’s difficult

forgivenessEvery Christian knows where Jesus stood on the act of forgiveness. Steve Cornell, a senior pastor at Millersville Bible Church, points out, “Jesus clearly warned that God will not forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25). It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving; instead, God expects forgiven people to forgive (Matthew18: 21-25).” Even though giving forgiveness is an expectation of Christian people, it is not always so easy to provide. A spouse has an affair, a friend talks badly about you to another friend, a criminal breaks into your house and steals personal items that were important you. No matter what the situation, granting forgiveness to those who hurt you can be difficult. In conflicts, forgiveness is necessary if reconciliation is to occur.

So why is it so difficult to forgive? According to Wayne Stiles, the Executive Vice President for Insight for Living Ministries, forgiving is difficult because “[…] we feel that not forgiving is our payback to our offender. But in truth, unforgiveness tortures us more than it does anyone else.” He goes on to explain, “ The problem with forgiving is that the debt is real. […] And in order to forgive, you must give even more than has already been taken.” Forgiveness is difficult for people who experience a reoccurrence of pain in their lives.

Throughout my life, the challenge has often been granting forgiveness to someone who is not apologetic. I have felt that if I forgave a person who hurt me without them apologizing then they are getting away with it. In an article by Lynette Holy on the Power to Change website she explains, “Forgiving someone does not cancel out the consequences of their actions.” Dr. Andrea Brandt, author of Mindful Anger: A Pathway to Emotional Freedom writes, “By forgiving, you are accepting the reality of what happened and finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it. This can be a gradual process—and it doesn’t necessarily have to include the person you are forgiving.”

Unfortunately, there is not a particular process that works for every person on how to forgive. Depending on the situation and the people, each process is different. However, there are some suggested tips to move toward forgiveness.

Angela Haupt, a senior editor for U.S News, suggests “[Expressing] the emotion. Let yourself feel hurt and angry. Verbalize the way you feel. Ideally, express it to the person who made you feel that way. Otherwise, talk to a stand-in friend or even an empty chair. Write a letter; you don’t need to send it.” Allowing your thoughts and feelings to get out of your head can be a very therapeutic process, people often internalize, and it wears down their energy.

The Mayo Clinic Staff advises that you, “Reflect on the facts of the situation, how you’ve reacted, and how this combination has affected your life, health, and well-being.” Understanding your role, feelings, and thoughts on the situation permits you to gain perspective.

E.C LaMeaux from Gaiam Life suggests that you, “Develop empathy. […] Looking at things from another person’s perspective takes you out of your bubble of hurt, and may make it easier to become more forgiving.” In my graduate courses, we have been required to write about the same conflict from multiple perspectives. Doing this activity has been difficult, but it has allowed me to take myself out of the equation and brainstorm why the other person acted or said what they did. I found it easier to approach the conflict or move on from the conflict once I gained this perspective.

Finally, The Mayo Clinic Staff recommends you, “Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life.” To forgive does not mean you forget, but that you are no longer letting this person or situation effect your day-to-day life.

Granting forgiveness to someone that hurts you is not always an easy task, but continuing to harbor a grudge can be detrimental to your emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program



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Refusing to be Enemies: The Zeitouna Story

Huda Karaman Rosen Laurie White Wadad Abedzena Zumeta







Zeitouna is Arabic for “olive tree” or “olive”.  In the sumer of 2002, a unique sisterhood was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, comprised of six Arab and six Jewish women.  Naming themselves Zeitouna, they unknowingly embarked on a life-changing journey, both personal and socio-political.  Committing to learn to hear each voice in the group has permanently joined them across the divide of their ancestral communities.  Zeitouna’s mission is to embody and promote the peaceful and just coexistence of the Arab and Jewish peoples through connection, trust, empathy, and actions focused on supporting a sustainable future for Palestine and Israel.


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Empathy – How Empathetic Are YOU in Conflict?

EmpathyWhat is empathy? Is empathy and sympathy one in the same? Although empathy and sympathy are similar they focus on different aspects of feelings.  Empathy is defined as the ability to share someone else’s feelings. Sometimes empathy is confused with sympathy, which is feeling sorry for someone’s troubles, experience, and sadness.

Feelings connect us to people on a deeper level reminding us that in this fast paced culture, we are alive, and we are human. Edwin Rutsch, the founder of the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy, explained that being empathic involves feeling your way into someone else’s experience.

Being empathetic is not just about understanding from the other person’s perspective, but being fully aware and present in the experience of another. Being present in that individual’s experience, in that moment of happiness, sadness, or even despair can strengthen the connection to that person and also heightens an individual’s view of themselves within the present conflict.

During conflicts we often get stuck on our own feelings and positions because we feel that the other party is not hearing us. I have had instances where I have been told that I am “only hearing what I want to hear” or the other person continues to repeat the same statement over and over again. This is a cry out from that  person, letting me know I really am not understanding what they are going through, or what they are experiencing in that moment. When I focus on the other person as they share with me what they are feeling and experiencing without interrupting them or dismissing their statements, I am being empathic. When someone feels they are being heard, they are less defensive and more open to a resolution, because they have the sense that I care about how they are feeling. Empathy is a humanizing experience, which connects us together.  

The ability to be empathic is not something that is inherited, it is something that can be learned, and must be practiced. The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy is a great resource for tools and strategies regarding empathy. The Center’s founder Edwin Rutsch joined the Texas Conflict Coach® for series of 4 podcasts where he challenged listeners to develop their own metaphor for empathy, and provided strategies and tips for refining the skill of empathy.

Here are some of my personal tips for practicing empathy:

       Remove distractions from your interactions such as mobile devices, gadgets, and computers

       Have self-awareness, know how you feel so you can focus on hearing the other person’s experience

       Have an understanding of what empathy means to you

Remember, as the Greek philosopher Epictetus said “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

By Tracy Culbreath

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore – Negotiation and Conflict Management Program


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Building a Culture of Empathy in the Business World and Beyond

Keiko KrahnkeEdwin RutschIn our final episode of the series Conflict and Empathy: Where Has Empathy and Compassion Gone? Keiko Krahnke from the University of  Colorado will join me and Edwin Rutsch, Center for Building a Culture of Empathy to discuss how do we foster empathy in a business, work and  beyond?   We will also look at the larger social systems and see how we can build a truly global culture of empathy.


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Empathy – How Do We Build It?

Edwin Rutsch

In our second episode of the series Conflict and Empathy: Where Has Empathy and Compassion Gone?, Edwin Rutsch and I will discuss how do we build empathy and compassion? Edwin will discuss a number of strategies he has implemented at the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy. One strategy has been the use of Empathy Circles using empathic reflective listening with individuals and groups. He will share real life examples and will model the skill.


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