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Lessons from Aikido: Workplace Conflict Management. Nigel Carruthers-Taylor. Who am I?. Director and Principal Consultant iCognition Pty Ltd Information Management Consultancy and Implementation Company Founded 2003 20 staff, several part time contractors

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Lessons from aikido workplace conflict management

Lessons from Aikido: Workplace Conflict Management

Nigel Carruthers-Taylor

Who am i
Who am I?

  • Director and Principal ConsultantiCognition Pty Ltd

    • Information Management Consultancy and Implementation Company

    • Founded 2003

    • 20 staff, several part time contractors

    • Offices in Canberra & Sydney. Melbourne virtual office

  • Aikido 4th Dan

    • Nearly 30 years practice

    • Two years study in Japan

What is aikido
What is Aikido?

  • aikidoai – harmonyki – energydo - way

What is aikido1
What is Aikido?

  • a modern Japanese martial art (1930’s-40’s)

  • consolidated in post WWII Japan

  • the founder, Morihei Ueshiba, called it the Art of Peace:

    • ‘techniques of harmony, not contention… a way of avoiding fighting and war.’


  • teaches self-defence

  • but the greater essence includes:

    • How to resolve conflict positively

    • Learning to let go of fear

    • Combines physical and mental control

What is noticeable
What is noticeable?

  • No blocking

  • Non-resistance

  • ‘merging’ of movement

    • ‘Go with the flow’

  • Neither passive nor aggressive

    • Definitely assertive

  • Not really win/win, but not really win/lose

Why non resistance
Why Non-Resistance?

  • Each action causes a similar or greater reaction

    • Force vs Force = Greater Force Wins


    • Loss = Determination to Seek Revenge

  • Sometimes we don’t have the greater force

  • We don’t need enemies

Non resistance

  • Going with your opponents puts you into a position of power

    • Takes you off the path of conflict

    • Helps you understand your opponent

    • Empathises with them

    • Allows you to walk them in the right direction

Aiki principles relax heavy
Aiki Principles: Relax/Heavy

  • Relax means your natural condition: to let the tension drop completely and allow everything to settle.

  • Relax does not mean floppy. Your natural condition has a springy-ness to it – like a rubber ball.

  • Relax has weight: when you try to pick up a relaxed person they are very heavy compared to a person who is tense.

Aiki principles centering
Aiki Principles: Centering

  • Where does your body and mind unify? Where is the ‘power station’ of your body. Asians believe it is the pit of the stomach – the ‘one point’, or hara.

  • All movement must come from center, ensuring balance and power in our techniques

  • From center our awareness extends out

Aiki principles leading
Aiki Principles: Leading

  • To use force against your opponent will inevitably result in an equally direct reaction against you.

  • So we lead our opponents to where we want to go, moving with our opponent in a non-resistant manner, avoiding blocking our opponent.

  • Leading includes moving in (irimi), and opening out (tenkan)

Aiki principles extension
Aiki Principles: Extension

  • Relaxed power extends from our center – our energy, our ki.

  • We use this extension to either cut through our opponent(s) center or to move our opponent’s center.

A workplace scenario
A Workplace Scenario

  • Business Area Representative (BAR - Jason): has recently implemented a new system

  • Project Manager (PM - Nigel): was project manager of the new solution

  • The PM has recently implemented a system into the BAR’s area. It hasn’t gone well – the system is not well accepted and there are angry people. The PM knows this, but is waiting to see if the issues sort themselves out. Now the BAR enters PM’s office to confront him.

Scenario 1 defensiveness attack block counterattack
Scenario 1: defensiveness (attack, block, counterattack)

  • BAR: ‘Nigel, this new system is crap! It’s not working!’

  • PM: ‘What do you mean it’s not working? My team spent a month testing it!’

  • BAR: ‘Yeah, you said it would work for me! You said it would be easy to use! My people hate it – they can’t use it!’

  • PM: ‘Hey, wait a minute here - you spent a week doing User Acceptance Testing! You signed it off! You said it looked good!’

  • BAR: ‘Only after you got my boss to pressure me into signing it off. “With all the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on this, you better use it”, he said’

  • PM: ‘The fact is that you did sign it off, and then we spent the next 3 weeks training and supporting your people – we achieved a successful implementation! We did all we can to ensure your system was a success!’

  • BAR: ‘My system! What a load of bullshit! It was never my system – you pushed it onto me!’

  • …and the beat goes on……

What creates this defensiveness
What creates this defensiveness?

  • Fear

  • Wanting to dominate

  • Needing to control

  • Use the Aiki Principles to overcome this

Scenario 2 non resistance listen reflect then lead
Scenario 2 – Non-resistance (listen, reflect, then lead)

  • BAR: ‘Nigel, this new system is crap! It’s not working!’

  • PM: ‘Sorry, what’s not working?’

  • b: ‘ This system, it’s shit – you said it would work for me! You said it would be easy to use! My people hate it – they can’t use it!’

  • PM: ‘Okay, let’s slow down. What is it that’s happening? What’s the issue?

  • BAR: ‘It’s just not working! My people are less efficient and less effective!’

  • PM: ‘ I’m aware there are some efficiency issues. Is it just teething problems?’

  • BAR: ‘Teething problems? I’m getting anger and resentment for allowing this thing to go ahead! People are hating me!’

  • PM: ‘Okay, that’s pretty shitty. Is it a systemic problem, or is it specific issues?’

  • BAR: ‘They can’t use it – it’s too complicated and not intuitive’.

  • PM: ‘Is it the interface or the business process?’

  • BAR: ‘I think it’s a bit of both – people are saying that they can’t easily complete the business process’.

  • PM: ‘Well why don’t we conduct a review of this and analyze what exactly is going on’

  • BAR: ‘yes, let’s do this – we need to do this as soon as possible!’

  • PM: ‘righty oh – let’s do it’

Thank you

Thank You