In this chapter, we will focus more on The Exchange techniques than on the formal process. How can we use the techniques central to The Exchange in everyday encounters, for instance, when one of our colleagues attacks us? If the person is our subordinate, perhaps we can use the hierarchical relationship or discipline to manage the situation. But what if that person is our peer or above us in the organization?
Early in his career in Employee Relations (before he became the director) Drew Thompson was surprised one day when his coworker, Sylvia, came into his office yelling:
How dare you e-mail me about the event last night and copy our boss! You have no right to make me look bad like that!
She was known to have a temper. Drew was surprised that someone who was such an expert at helping other employees could be so difficult to work with on a daily basis. The coworker seemed to have no problem in assessing other people's situations and dispensing advice, but she often reacted emotionally when it was her own issues. Clearly he had done something wrong in her book, so he focused on trying to understand what her concerns were. He recognized that it was not about him, per se; it was more about him violating an important need that she had. Drew took a deep breath and remembered to take an Aikido approach.
In the world of marital arts, Aikido is the one most metaphorically applicable to general conflict resolution and specifically to working with high-conflict individuals. We begin here with the Aikido philosophy to plan our response. A manager will find the mind-set of an Aikidoist to be very helpful.
First, here are some comments about Aikido. It is a defensive art. The Aikidoist does not seek conflict, but also does not fear it or run from it. Rather he or she prepares for it in a careful, disciplined way. It is an art that requires the practitioner to be centered and calm. In other words, the practitioner is taught to be able to respond and not to react. Reacting is an instinctive action that all too often gives control to the attacker. Responding is a thoughtful action chosen by the Aikidoist. Responding is done in a measured, careful way: the situation does not escalate and no one is harmed. To accomplish this, an Aikidoist throws his or her opposite off balance—without hurting the person—to give the person a different view of the situation. This is exactly what needs to happen when you are on the receiving end of a verbal attack.
Why should you take an Aikido approach when you feel attacked? Consider your other options. You can: