Kung Fu Negotiation: Double-Secret Tai Chi Skills

keys, secret

Here’s a martial arts secret that is not really so secret: each movement in a form can have more than one application.

In Tai Chi, for instance, it is said that each movement has at least four applications: a block, a strike, a joint lock and a throw. Take the famous “Wave Hands Like Clouds,” for example. As you shift your weight to your right foot, your right hand waves slowly across your face, then moves in a circle downward as you shift your weight to your left foot and your left hand comes up to wave slowly across your face. Block a punch to the face? Sure, as your hand comes up and across. Strike your opponent’s face? Sure, if you’re close enough. Joint lock? It slips directly into one called “Dragon Holds A Ball” in external forms. Throw? Create the joint lock and keep the circular energy going around and down to the ground, following your counterpart’s body.

Different negotiators and different mediators have different styles. No one style or application of that style is the “right” one all the time. If you figure out your own style and master it, though, you will be able to pick and choose your approach to a given challenge, the way the kung fu master might use a block or redirect in one context but in a more violent one fling an opponent face first onto the floor.

Take our hypothetical Tai Chi negotiator. As he is sitting in his conference room, someone across the table makes a ridiculous demand.

The block: He can swat it away and dismiss it, then go one with the conversation. It would be the “you don’t need that, let’s move on” approach.

The strike: He can counter with an equally ridiculous demand, setting up what negotiation theorists call a positional bargaining situation rather than an interest-based negotiation. His strike will be followed by a block and possibly a counteroffer. “A thousand dollars?  Maybe a hundred at most.”

The joint lock: He can engage in a substantive discussion and try to pin his counterparty down. Talking smoothly, the noose tightens.

The throw: While seeming to draw his counterparty into a substantive discussion, he can flip the ridiculous offer into something that embarrasses his counterparty into concession. Wait for the counterparty to tap out.

All this takes mastery.  It is easy to say, “Talk smoothly,” but actually being able to do it is a significant skill. It is easy to say, “Flip that jerk across the table onto his face,” but it is at least as hard to do that figuratively as it is to do it literally.  Think about it in your next negotiation. If you are wearing a mediator’s hat, think about guiding the parties into the right negotiating modes. Chances are, they will already be in a block-strike pattern when they walk through the door.

If you come to the table with the mindset of a kung fu master, you will know what to do.

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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 September 20, 2013, in Kung Fu Strategies and Tactics, Tai Chi and Ba Gua and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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