Kung Fu Negotiation: Hit With the Ground

Xing Yi stylists are taught to “hit with the ground.”  Chen Style Tai Chi practitioners learn to “punch with the feet.” The point is the same: maximum grounding at the point of contact, transferred seamlessly to the striking point, so the power of the punch does more than push the puncher off his feet. The fancy part of martial arts – all the punching, arm waiving, kicking and screaming – depends on remaining rooted.

Woman stepping on stone in middle of stream

Literature suggests one way being rooted translates into applications other than physical fighting: through backing up one’s own will with the interests of the group. For instance, in John Brunner’s disturbingly prescient science fiction novel The Shockwave Rider, the main character advises his captor that he has been “searching for a place to stand so that I could move the Earth.” He eventually escapes by recruiting his captor and does find a place to stand, within a small community of people who share a common goal.

In his more modern book, War, Sebastian Junger writes of the power of the brotherhood of the platoon, touching on evolutionary theory to show how one overriding driver of men’s behavior on the front lines is their being subsumed within a small group. Loyalty to that group is the fulcrum upon which infantry soldiers are able to survive and sometimes thrive under chaotic, dangerous conditions far removed from their pre-military life.

Negotiating from a position of strength means more than having a good argument or a special product with a premium price. It means that one needs the ground, the feet, the fulcrum. Most of us can be pushed further individually than we can when connected to a group, whether that group is a family, a workgroup or an organization. I never appreciated the distinction until I  had the opportunity to serve as a member of the board of my apartment building many years ago. I found myself in a room with people, some of whom I liked and some of whom I despised, managing a litigation against a small building in which each of us was also named personally. All remove fell by the wayside: the plaintiff was after my home, my family, my neighbors, my fellow board members. That was the ground from which I was striking: I was defending the group.

One danger that the professional negotiator faces is the lack of ground. Lawyers and other third party negotiators who can be like the mercenaries of the process find a temporary connection to their clients’ groups and sometimes have a hard time separating themselves from the client – but at the same time, since they are ultimately not the maker or direct beneficiary of the negotiating decisions, may not have the benefit of the grounding that someone who actually works for the client has. Useless puffery becomes easy. Even within an organization, since all jobs at all levels are insecure in today’s economy, it can be difficult to find a true fulcrum from which to effect internal or external change. And therefore, it becomes easy to be another kind of paper tiger: not just one who acts in an inauthentic manner, but one who mimics speaking from true interests and merely stakes out positions.

Find your ground to make your hit more effective.

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About Jeffrey FInk

In my day job, I'm a lawyer, mediator, arbitrator and advisor in Wellesley, Massachusetts with clients locally and from around the world. I advise clients about general business matters, act as outside general counsel to several companies and counsel clients in more contentious situations. Wearing a different hat, as a mediator, Collaborative lawyer and ADR professional I help clients resolve a wide range of business and family disputes. I've also studied a number of styles of martial arts and have a second degree black belt in kung fu.

Posted on August 1, 2013, in Kung Fu Strategies and Tactics, Negotiation, Tai Chi and Ba Gua and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Wing Chung is Martial Arts self defense system that focuses on fighting and to channel energy to counter the opponents fighting techniques. It recognizes the difficulty that is associated with pressure during an attack and focuses not on offense but mainly on reactions. One counter attack to respond to your opponent’s move as a reflex; and to force and speed up the attack direction based on tactile information. Tactile information is interpreted faster than visual information by the brain hence your reaction time will be lower giving credit to the technique.

    • Well said. I only know the first Wing Chun 12 forms, but one of the great things about using the wooden man apparatus in my study so far is learning to flow through an opponent’s limbs based on tactile feedback. I have a problem, though: it’s so easy to lose myself in feedback that I stop paying attention to my own limbs. That is, until the bruises draw my attention back!

      I think the translation to negotiating technique is learning to listen with more than your ears. As you sense change in the person across the table, you can get ahead of your opponent’s move, but you have to be careful not to lose focus in the process. Listening and balancing seems to use some of the same cognitive skills as the Wing Chun master has developed. What do you think? Do the skills carry over?

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