The Power of Understanding

Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding

Laws of Power 25: Train Mental Tactics

By Karen S. Walch

“Crush the enemy” is a key strategic tenet of Sun-tzu, the fourth century BC author of the “Art of War.” The idea is that in your struggles with those who want to control or attack you, it is necessary that you “have no mercy.” You must crush them totally as they may wish to attack and prey on you. The wisdom here is that direct annihilation of a counterpart’s forces must always be the dominant consideration because leaving a “half-dead viper only makes the venom grow stronger.” Victory in warfare or negotiation is achieved when you allow your counterparts absolutely no options. The classic goal of power is to control others completely, to make them obey your will and give those who oppose you “nothing to negotiate, no hope and no room to maneuver.”

In last week’s Law 24, we reviewed some Aikido practices for negotiation where power is enhanced NOT with the intent to destroy but to neutralize attacks without injury to others or without expending unnecessary force. We addressed how principles from Aikido practices can offer a useful metaphor for shifting our way of thinking and action in a conflict or difficult negotiation situation. This week’s law will examine more closely the fundamental principle of Aikido called “centering” and how it can increase our power as negotiators.

Training in mental tactics of relaxation, awareness and flexibility for negotiation have cognitive as well as physical implications when the mind and body come under stress in conflict and manipulation situations.

This week we will focus on how negotiators can perform bold moves with confidence and directness without hesitation in situations where you are attacked by other negotiators. One of the tenets in the martial art of attack is to be “willing to receive 99 percent of an opponent’s attack and stare death in the face” in order to execute counter tactics.

Practitioners who use this conflict art form claim that this may sound like it is all about the fighting proficiency, but they point out that it is the mental training that is the most important key to this skill. When someone is attacked or manipulated in a negotiation, the choice to center one’s self and acknowledge the potential for attack as the critical first step in successful counter tactics.

Centering is a psychological experience when “mind, body, and spirit become fully integrated” because it creates a balance, connection and awareness of a relationship between one’s self and others in a negotiation.

Those who carry out centering in negotiation either through Aikido or other practices all declare that the knowledge of centering is powerful and that it is not just an intellectual or philosophical principle. Learning to become centered in difficult negotiations requires practice and a feeling, vibration or internal sensory experience.

It is simple, natural, powerful and quite obvious, but often overlooked as a source of power in extremely stressful negotiations. Those who practice centering claim that it is important to experience centering in your own way, and you will soon recognize when you are not centered in negotiations, or in any other of life’s endeavors.

Several years ago, Elizabeth, a London-based mediator, demonstrated to my negotiation students how powerful centering can be. She pointed out that the concept of centering derives from the world of physics and theories about the center of gravity.

The center of gravity of any object is an infinitely small point upon which the entire object can be balanced. It is not an intellectual idea or merely a physical location. It is a dynamically active, vibrant and alive center of one’s balance and stability. With the skill of centering, she pointed out how negotiators can dramatically affect their ability to be strong and confident even in the most manipulative situations.

As a demonstration, Elizabeth asked two of the tallest, strongest male students in the class to grab her forearms with both hands and lift her off the ground. Since she has a slight build, they were able to quickly and easily lift her a couple feet off the floor.

Then she asked them to return her to the floor, and she asked for a moment to center her focus. She took a deep breath, exhaled, became aware of her feet and core of her body, visualized an energy that flowed through her feet and up through her entire body and out beyond herself which circulated in and through her. With a focus on her own physical center she continued to breathe while they attempted to lift her off the ground again with no luck despite their strained attempts to do so.

Elizabeth then requested them to do one more lifting attempt where she shifted her focus away from her center and let her mind wander elsewhere. The two strong negotiation students were stunned at how easily it was again to lift her and how suddenly the change took place. She pointed out that this exercise illustrates how focused centering as a mediator helps her recognize her relationship to something bigger and more powerful than herself or immediate conflict circumstances.

She is able to move beyond her own personal struggle and concerns into a larger perspective. Centeredness for her adds not only stability, but also substance for problem solving in conflict situations. She also pointed out that any one can do this centering exercise periodically throughout the day – even though you may not physically be lifted into the air!

Practice and repetition brings results, clarity, and power – and it can be fun.

As a result of subtle mental training and centering, I observe more often today how negotiation power and creativity can emerge. One of the most surprising element I hear from those who practice centering tactics is that it is just about impossible to be angry, fearful or victimized in a negotiation when someone is aware and operating from their own center of gravity.

It is also common to hear from those who begin this practice that there is a tendency to react with old patterns of fear and anger before remembering to respond from the center. However, with mindful practice, it is possible to observe the subtle distinctions between when you are centered and when you are not.

Law 25 Exercise

Practice mental imagery to prepare for a difficult negotiator, take a short recovery break if the interaction becomes too stressful, and use setbacks to refocus and gain support and motivation for commitment to constructive negotiation interactions.

1. Acknowledge that you can choose your attitude about how a manipulator treats you.

2. Realize your own will by making a commitment to use negotiation approaches which are in alignment with your own values and goals.

3. Shift the focus of your attention when someone attacks or disrespects you in a negotiation.

Extra Credit

For more information read, Prisoners of our Thought by Alex Pattakos (2008).

48 Laws for 21st Century Global Negotiators: Join Thunderbird Professor Karen S. Walch, Ph.D., as she explores the laws of power for 21st century global negotiators. Each Monday she discusses one law and provides an exercise to identify and enhance individual negotiation power. Go to the main menu for the series.