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Putting the Pieces Together

scattered dominoes

Kung fu masters have come up with many teachings that sound poetic but are extremely practical. For instance, people who practice Chen style tai chi say, “Don’t hit. Kick with your hands”: have a complete connection between your sole and your fist. It goes along with a Yang style tai chi saying that is a bit more explanatory: “All movement is rooted in the feet, controlled through the waist and expressed in the hands,” or one of the core principles of every style of tai chi, “If one part of me is moving, all parts of me are moving. If one part of me is still, all parts of me are still.” The endless hours of horse stance practice from external martial arts styles and standing qigong (zhan zhuang) from internal styles are not just to make one’s legs stronger and alignment better, but also to teach students to feel the connection between all parts of their bodies, how extra tension in the calves translates to imbalance that makes them hold their shoulders more tightly and painfully. The training even reaches further inside the student’s body, teaching him to breathe with more coordination, as in the “microcosmic orbit” breathing from the external styles or “back breathing” from the internal styles. Some Ba Gua students even claim to be able to control the operation of their internal organs. To these students, everything must work together, even, ultimately, autonomic function.

If you are negotiating with someone and your mind is spinning in a million directions, your distraction provides an opening for your counterparty to step in. Your arguments are not cogent. You do not project calm confidence. You forget facts and mix up conversations. Your constant retreats to your phone screen signal disrespect. While it is wrong to see the outcome of every discussion as either win or lose, if you are scattered, you are setting yourself up to lose. Do not be like the tai chi student who merely waves her hands around without the internal connections, whom the masters describe as “scattered and confused.” It is not a new age concept to learn to focus better!

Similarly, if you are speaking on behalf of someone else – whether it is your company, your employer or a client – it is your responsibility to make sure that the chain of communication and decision making reaches as far back as it has to. That way, you speak with the strength of the whole rather than just for yourself.  If a company can say, “We hear you, but after consideration this is how the Board has decided to go,” it has much more strength than, “I’m not sure, but I don’t think we can do that.” All the parts of the organization should work together, or else, like the student struggling in a horse stance, some part is going to start complaining.

Realistically, this sort of integration and coordination is more an aspiration than a requirement. No person is focused all the time and no organizations work coherently all the time. As calm and grounded as you may feel on Tuesday, by Wednesday things may change. However, if you mirror the kung fu master, who finds something to improve every time he practices, the effort will pay off. In the meantime, like the student holding an uncomfortable position, find ways to strengthen the situation. Work on communications within your company and lobby your boss to get buy-in at all levels on your issue. Learn to use interpersonal cues to look like you are focused and attentive, and it will strengthen your connections. Take up yoga, tai chi, other martial arts or something that connects your movements. These small steps add up.

Kung Fu Negotiation: The Multi-Level Attack

 

 

 

 

After some time off over the summer, we’re back with more!

Toy Kung Fu Fighters

One martial arts tactic that translates well to litigation and other high conflict, win or lose situations is the multi-level attack. A negotiator can use it too, but if the relationship between the parties is important it can backfire and inflame tensions.

The multi-level attack relies on the fact that people have trouble keeping their attention on more than one dangerous stimulus at a time. There are two related versions. One is to distract (feint) and to strike. The other is to hit two spots at the same time.

Distract and strike carries over the best. In the well-known “jab-cross” that boxers use, the jab is a poke with one fist to draw the opponent’s attention, and the cross is a second punch with power that follows an instant later. There are many kung fu techniques that involve a snap kick to the groin that may or may not make contact, followed up an instant later with a strike to the face or another vulnerable spot. Distract your opponent with one thing, then follow up with a hard-pressed point that is really important to you. It is a variation on what negotiation theorists call “positional bargaining” in which a party stakes out a strong position knowing that he will back off of it in exchange for a concession elsewhere.

Other techniques involve striking more than one place. For instance, a complicated move from the Hung Gar Tiger-Crane set is called “Crane Flashes Wings”: one hand blocks, the other slashes across the opponent’s eyes while a snap kick comes in from below. Northern Shaolin Long Fist has a number of these techniques, including the well-known “Simultaneous Kick and Punch”: a snap kick to the groin and a punch toward the face, followed by a very powerful punch that will break your hand if you are not prepared to follow through. Even Yang style taiji has a nasty (and impractical) move with the poetic name “Step Up, Advance Seven Stars,” which is either (i) a simultaneous kick and crushing of the windpipe or (ii) a simultaneous low kick, punch to the midsection and punch to the face. In litigation, the equivalent is filing multiple motions, separating issues into multiple pieces of paper to appear before the court or even filing multiple complaints. I have been involved in a few disputes in which there were five or six separate actions pending in five or six separate state and Federal courts on essentially the same matter. By focusing the opponent’s attention on multiple attacks, this approach runs up the cost and the annoyance of continuing the conflict for the opponent. It is useful to demonstrate overwhelming strength, resources and determination, but is most often used when one is weak and wants to pick up a few victories to turn the tide of the conflict.

If you are on the other side of one of these attacks, your options may be limited. In martial arts, the masters have developed a counter-technique for each technique that might be used against them. In personal interactions, your response may be to step back and not engage (what the martial artists call a “yin block”), or to engage on each point if you do not know what is meaningful, or to draw the conversation to the point you deem the other side’s position to be weakest (the equivalent of the martial arts joint lock). In litigation, you have to respond or risk default, although motion practice and asking for continuances attenuates the power of the attack while running up the cost of continuing the dispute for both parties. Continuing the pain can be a good strategy, since people often agree to resolve disputes only after they are tired of the fight.

In a confrontational situation, conflict fatigue can help parties step back and engage in “interest based negotiation” – figuring out what is important, negotiating about that and letting the rest fall into place. It is like being able to tell the feint from the strike, or knowing how to push the opponent off balance so his wildly swinging fists do not strike their target. Sometimes you have to carry on the fight long enough to get there.

Dit Da Jow Recipe

The Kung Fu Mediation blog has three groups of readers:  martial arts people, negotiation/dispute resolution people and those who do both.  This post is aimed at martial arts readers.

Woman throwing punch

I’ve received e-mails from all over the world in response to a post from a few months ago on How to Make and Use Dit Da Jow, which in turn was a follow-up to a post on Kung Fu Negotiation: The Iron Palm. People have been asking for more information on how to make Dit Da Jow, an herbal compound that is supposed to toughen the skin and reduce injury from repeated strikes.

My English handwriting is bad and Chinese handwriting is even worse. However, if you don’t mind squiggles, please click on the link for a PDF of a Dit Da Jow Recipe that you can print out and take to a Chinese herbalist. The herbs should cost less than $10. The prior post explains what to do once you’ve acquired the ingredients.

In addition to the disclaimers in the earlier post, please be aware that:

  • It takes at least 6 months of infusing in alcohol to get really powerful, but you can start using it after 3-4 months.
  • Dit Da Jow becomes a strong smelling potion. My wife complains when I use it.
  • This recipe creates a powerful vasoconstrictor. In other words, it causes the small blood vessels to contract to help control bruising. However, it also makes your hands cold. It’s really important to run your hands under hot water before applying, both to improve absorption and to keep your hands warm. The masters say that the warmth is important for qi development. I say it makes the training less uncomfortable.
  • Because of the smell, because the herbalists tell me some of the herbs are poisonous if ingested and because it feels better to limit the vasoconstriction, I always wash the stuff off in hot water after it sits for a few minutes.
  • The shelf life should be at least several years. I have received mixed messages on whether to strain the herbs out after a period of time.
  • The original source of this recipe was a commercial distributor that is now out of business. They told me that it is specifically designed for use on the hands, but I’ve used it on my arms and elbows too.

Finally, please, please remember that while Dit Da Jow helps, it’s not magic. It is easy to break your hand or wrist when you are trying to break too many boards (at higher levels, coconuts are a traditional target, too – but not for old guys like me). Train safely!

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.