Aikido and Business by Mike Lewis


"Oh no, not another staff meeting! " is your first response to the note on your e-mail. Then you get that familiar knot in your stomach and the little guy with the hammer starts tapping in your head; just behind your eyes. Its Thursday and the meeting won't be until next Wednesday; six nights of restless sleep, and a weekend to worry about who will say what about which project.

You talk to other members of your team; each one beginning to fight their own little demons. The CYA (cover your a-- ) process begins; "If I did XYZ, then everything would be allright" Then the blaming process; "If you had done XYZ, then we wouldn't be in trouble." Then the judgment; "If those managers/boss think they are so good, then let them finish the project."
On another floor in the building, a manager looks at the financials, spread sheets, and timelines. Everything has slipped and is behind, and she has to report to the business council about this year's product and sales projections.

"At least I have two weeks to worry about it,' Beth thinks to herself, "I'd better get my team together." Then she reaches for the Maalox, and the enteric coated aspirin. " I know my blood pressure is up, but if I go to the doctor, he'll just tell me to eat and drink less, get more sleep, and relax. Relax? Sure! With all these incompetents I have working for me? How can they do this to me? They must not care about me. They must hate me and want to sabotage my career. They're only interested in their paychecks."

Wow! Two trains full of emotion heading for the same intersection. High speed crashes may be exciting to an outside observer, but they are no fun for the people affected. Any adult who has never been in either of these positions, or felt these emotions,is either a saint, or numb from the neck up.

Conflict like this frequently occurs in business, but can also be seen in any other organization, including families. Daily conflict between spouses, partners and children often leave us drained of energy and patience. We often feel that we must win, and can do so with the authority of being a male or a parent, or by simply having a bigger voice. Talking "up" to our parents is the most difficult, because we are never right , and will never "win". We all know that the opposite of winning is losing, and that if we lose more than we win, we are "losers".

Imagine the difference in reactions to conflict , if families and workplaces were familiar with the principals of Aikido. Suppose that everyone understood that conflict does not necessarily mean contest; that if we could all stay in the moment long enough, we might find that we have shared goals despite our ways of reaching them.

For my generation, the war in Viet Nam is a good example. There were good, caring people who were "doves" and against the war. There were good, caring people who were "hawks", and for the war. On the street, or in the same room, a discussion between hawks and doves was a contest of tsuki and shomen attacks. Each was a direct, confrontational, " I'm right, you're wrong" head on attack. Had they turned tenkan and blended energy, they might have discovered that each wanted a world safe for their children.

Jean-Paul Sartre said that the best thing a father could do for his son is to die young. Maybe, if fathers and sons practiced Aikido together, they could find a common path, if only to allow each other's growth: growth into an adult and growth into an honored elder.

If both Dave and Beth were familiar with Aikido, the week or two before the meeting would have been different. Rather than a time of anxiety and trepidation, there would have been excitement and anticipation about the process. Rather than fearing a contest and readying defenses, Beth and Dave would have been discovering from where the energy was coming and how to use it to finish the project.

In the best situation, the meeting would have been a celebration of energy, co-discovery and growth. Each would bring all their energy to the table, and each would leave whole and healthy. Other team members would feel less threatened, and therefore more able to contribute to the process. All would have less stress and more vitality.

We do not need to wear a black belt to carry the spirit of Aikido into our daily lives. We need only to strive for mastery and stay with one-point the best we can to change the way we live with our families, our friends, and in our work relationships.

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