This aggression will not stand, man!—The Dude
Have you ever seen moose lock horns in the wild? Sometimes a heated exchange in the boardroom looks like that. When someone verbally attacks us, it’s instinctive to resist by escalating the level of aggression and getting louder/bigger. Aikido shows us how counterproductive negative energy like this is when compared to the power of extending our positive ki, or positive mental attitude in diffusing or thwarting an attack.
The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking
Don’t confuse extending with positive thinking. This latter term refers to how you would mentally frame events in your life: maybe that person was just having a bad day or I won’t let them bring me down. Mark Morgan Ford makes a good point, “So forget about positive thinking. Instead, start rewiring your brain by working toward the goal you want to achieve or practicing the skill you want to master.” He argues that visualizations with positive outcomes, used by athletes and entrepreneurs is a positive thinking practice that creates a habit. Helen Sanders makes a similar point as she highlights the advantages of positive thinking and the detriments of negativity.
Positive thinking as an inward behavior does nothing to change the behavior of others around you, nor is it a tool to resist aggression. What good does it do to think positively as you’re being punched in the face? Extending is positive thinking in action.
How Aikido Extending Works
It’s not likely that someone is going to physically attack you at work, but let me first explain Aikido extending in the dojo, and then I will apply it to work situations.
Extending your positive energy (ki), or goodwill and love, towards another takes up less of your energy and is stronger resistance. In Aikido, when attacked, the practitioner will center himself and try to read the energy of the attacker. Then he will extend feelings of goodwill and positivity towards the attacker. You can see it on his face: the person being attacked is relaxed, his eyes are calm and kind, and he looks openly and expectantly at the attacker without fear or anger.
Extending positive ki is much stronger than negative ki. You can do this ki elbow test at home to see for yourself:
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Extending Positive Energy at Work
At work, when someone comes at you with an aggressive or even passive aggressive verbal attack, it’s time to channel The Dude, from The Big Lebowski.
- Don’t let their negative energy affect you. Breathe and center yourself.
- If you can’t think of something positive about that person, think about something else. Go to your happy place.
- Keep Breathing/centering.
- Try to understand this person’s point of view without making judgments or responding.
- Extend your positive energy towards that person.
- They might stop mid-sentence and wonder why you look so relaxed, or their voice might drop a few octaves as they see you listening calmly and nodding.
A positive mental attitude, when extended towards others, is powerful in diffusing conflict and bolstering the health of your team. By using positive energy to stop aggression, a centered leader is effective and less exhausted at the end of long day.
Next up in the centered leader series: Entering, or stepping into conflict instead of avoiding.