In their book, Everyone Can Win, facilitator Shoshana Faire and psychologist Helena Cornelius explain how the martial art of Aikido can teach us a few things about responding to conflict.
The name 'Aikido' is a composition of three Japanese words:
ai: meaning 'harmony'
ki: meaning 'universal energy'
do: meaning 'the way'
Together, this trinity translates into: 'the way of harmonizing with universal energy.'
Aikido teaches us that by starting from a state of centeredness - a calm mind and body - we are able to openly and powerfully embrace conflict and turn it towards solutions that work better for everyone.
Aikido is based on the principle that a universal force or energy flows through everything. Individuals cal align themselves the this force and bring the energy of others into alignment with it too. The purpose of an aikido maneuver is not to hurt, as it is in some martial arts, but to disarm or divert the attack. The martial artist directs the energy away from causing harm. Its practice resembles a dance, as the attackers energy is elegantly deflected and rendered harmless.
An aikido master is very alert, and flows with the energy of his adversary. When you flow with the movement of energy, you won't rigidly oppose the other person. You'll use your strength and calm to direct their energy away from causing harm, and towards creating solutions. You can move the other person to the positive, leading them to sharing what it is they really want or what would fix the problem.
It's a dance. Be open to finding the next step that will keep the dance flowing smoothly in the right direction. Now you are choosing how you will respond.
Flow is about being flexibly, but relatively effortless. You adapt nimbly to changing circumstances, but you stay relaxed. Your concentrated awareness ensures you're present - right here, right now.
You've most likely experienced flow when you're calm and attentive, or you're immersed in a project that fully engages you. It's a little tougher to find 'flow' when you're in conflict, and your emotions are aroused.
Flow is a learned skill that takes practice. Sometimes you'll trip up; we all do. But you can make it a habit to get back on track as quickly as possible.
Flow is not a passive process. It is a better use of energy. It requires a bold, conscious choice to be flexible and brave. You need the courage to trust the process of communication and your own ability to steer the conversation around the obstacles, sway with the wind of other's emotions, and respond appropriately at each moment.