Tag Archives: handling conflicts

Games People Play

Somebody recently mentioned to me something interesting about the Japanese martial arts. He pointed out that the essence of the practice is actually to accept a blow from the opponent rather than defending it. He told me that when one accepts an attack so completely, he can’t be hurt.

 The Japanese martial arts are very spiritual, supposed to have been influenced by Buddhism.

But what really struck me was the simple beauty of the concept. It is somewhat difficult for us to digest this as we are all taught to defend ourselves and being defenseless is generally considered a weakness.

Let me narrate an incident. I once had a very very aggressive and dominant boss. Aggressive in the sense that he had to be always in conflict with someone. Perhaps he derived his sense of identity out of it. It used to happen that we would get in to some arguments where I would defend myself fiercely and these meetings left me totally down and drained.

This happened for a while, till I decided to take a close look and analyze what is happening. I could see a pattern which was something like this: My nature was to defend when accused and when I do that I became very emotional and lost my mind. I would then withdraw and sulk. My manager had figured this out (I assume). So what he would do is to begin with a very provoking accusation. The moment I became defensive, he would completely be in control and take me for a ride. I also sensed that there was some kind of gratification he for him out of this.

This was like a game. He was pulling me in to this and I was unconsciously consenting. So what would happen if I refuse to play the game? This is what I started to do. I went completely prepared for the next meeting. I sat there listening intently with calm (as much as I could) face, smiling. When he made some of those accusations, I calmly responded something like “that’s an interesting perception”. I am still smiling serenely. Suddenly something is wrong. The discussion continues and comes the next one and there I am smiling and saying ‘may be’. That was it. He was furious.

I simply remained there unperturbed like a Buddha. I made it clear that I refuse to be pulled in to the game.

The same thing happened in the next couple of meetings and by then both of us had understood it had lost all the charm. And we didn’t have many more such meetings.

This was a great lesson for me. We are always taught to defend us and prove us right. And all that it takes for someone to get us out of the mind is to just tell that we are wrong. But for a change, if we accepted it with a smile, you can see the entire story crumpling right in front.

May be Sensei is also the Zen master…

Why can’t we resolve our own issues by thinking?

In a way, this is a stupid question. All of face issues and there is no denying that we try to resolve them by ‘deep’ thinking. But the question is, does it really help us solve the issue.

(for clarity: what I mean by issues here are situations where we need to take a decision but not sure what. Typical examples are a relationship problem, making a job change, handling a conflict. I don’t really mean those issues that we solve say as part of our job)

I had lot of issues that I faced in life, and many were unexpected and threw me out of balance. Many times, they gripped my mind, in a way I was not able to shake them off. I played them in my mind repeatedly with slight variations. And I thought I was trying to think deep on the issue. This goes on for sometime and I am all the more confused and down. At some point, I feel I cannot handle this and I discuss the issue with my close friends or my spouse. Believe me, people are just waiting for you to ask their opinions. Most of the time friends and spouses give you advices that you want, not what you need.

And when I look back, most of those issues were resolved either by natures best remedy – time, or just by the way the sequence of events turned out to be.

Either way, what about the time, energy and effort spend on brooding over them?

Later in life, I realized that there has to be a better way to handle these issues. After lot of trial and error, I have found a working two step process for resolving such issues.

STEP 1 – Understanding the issue

            I found, typically when you approach an issue, you just don’t see the issue alone, it comes as a whole package. The first challenge is to segregate them. I try to think of these four elements:

  1. Relevance of the issue – is it something that needs to be resolved in the first place? Is it just a question of ego or solving it will impact my life in anyway? How significant is it in the whole scheme of things?
  2. My assumptions – What are my assumptions? This is the toughest part, especially when it comes to relationship problems. I would have assumed that someone doesn’t like me or he has a vested interest in doing this..
  3. My emotional involvement – This is also very very important. The emotional aspect makes it difficult to solve issues, especially related to relations. More emotional we are about the issue, less logical we are.
  4. The past and the future – How much am I influenced by what has happened in the past and my plan for the future. This is also important because typically we don’t see issues in isolation. We view them as continuation of something that happened in the past. This also means that we might be prejudiced. On the other side, the issue might be arising out of a fixed concept that we have about something in the future.

I put these things on paper separately and try to be as honest and logical as possible. Most of the time this step itself will help you segregate the real problem from all the mess around it and you have the clarity to solve it easily. But sometimes, this is difficult, especially when I am emotionally involved in the issue. The I go to step 2.

STEP 2: Taking alternative views

            I find someone whom I respect and who I am sure has a bigger view of life and experience. I ask  for a short appointment. Then I present him the problem in an ‘as a matter of fact’ tone and seek his views. This really works because the person is not emotionally involved in the issue and can really give me a very logical picture of the whole thing. This helps me overcome the emotional barrier that stopped me from seeing the issue. (Sometime it may be needed to repeat step 1 after this once again)

Believe me, you can solve things much more easily and effectively.

What I didn’t realize though at that time was that there is a feedback process working. When you do this a couple of times, your thinking patterns get modified and this becomes your natural way you think. Going forward, I would also expect the issues to come down significanly, because they were created by those same thinking patterns.

It’s a slow process, but works….