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Old 11-06-2009, 06:10 AM   #30
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
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Re: The Martial Art of Difficult Conversations

Kevin Leavitt posted the article because he thought it was a "good read". Since I have great respect for Kevin and his views on aikido and training, I took the trouble to read this article and many others penned by this author. I must confess that as a result I was somewhat disappointed.

The author seems to me to run together several separate issues. Of course, there is the issue highlighted by Josh Reyer, of dealing with neighbors who might also be good friends (though the author does not pay much attention to this). This issue would be very important for me, here in Japan. I live in a part of Hiroshima that is still very 'traditional', in the sense that life is lived according to traditional Japanese values. So there is a very subtle sense of how these values translate to neighborly obligations. Translating the problem sketched by the author into my own terms here is well nigh impossible.

The second issue is the legal issue. Again, this would be very unlikely to arise here unless something else happened.

The third issue is the way the author uses the incident to teach what he thinks are important virtues concerning conversation and to buttress his own reputation as a communication 'guru'. In this respect, the article reminded me of manuals on 'negotiation', which is a subject I have taught for many years. (This is mainly why I was disappointed. In aikido, Terry Dobson also wrote a disappointing book on this aspect of aikido, called Aikido in Daily Life: Giving in to Get Your Way). The textbooks always paint a rosy picture, where communication in general, and the more restricted form, of negotiation, is always successful. Failed communication is never really an option and negotiations are always 'win-win' encounters.

The important paragraphs in the article are the following:

"When people learn a martial art, they practice the same move endlessly until it becomes automatic and available when they are ambushed. I realized that day that I needed the conversational equivalent. So I resolved to make a change. I created my new knee-jerk reaction: Ask a question."
PAG. This paragraph made me wonder whether the author actually practises a martial art. If he does, I hope he also realizes that it depends very much on the relevance and quality of the question. Not just any old question will do. But then the issue then becomes, 'What is a good question to ask?' This complicates the issue somewhat and reduces the value of the knee-jerk reaction.

"Whenever I'm surprised and I don't know what to say, I now ask a question. Even if that question is: "Can you tell me more?" That gets the other person talking and in a difficult conversation, it's always useful to let the other person go first. It reduces their defensiveness, you might learn something that could change your perspective or at least help you frame your perspective so they could hear it, and you'll provide an example of good listening they might just follow."
PAG. In my opinion this is pseudo-psychologizing of a very amateurish kind. If I realized that my interlocutor was simply regarding me as an uke, on whom he could practise his 'communication waza', I would probably respond as a proper uke should do and prevent him from completing his waza. Actually, I have seen this type of pseudo-psychologizing going on at aikido meetings and the results have invariably been disastrous.

Just to give some context, I once taught a seminar on intercultural negotiation. I happened to have three different cultures represented in the seminar: the US, China, and Japan. I presented two different scenarios of negotiation: a zero-sum type, such as fixing a price for a car, and a more general scenario such as the one presented here. However, I was more interested in the 'frames' in which the negotiators saw the interactions.

The responses were interesting: the Chinese: "Know your enemy"; the Americans: "Enter a courtship and always end in a win-win situation"; the Japanese: "See which way the wind is blowing before making any commitment."

To me it is interesting that there are very few books in Japanese on negotiation. There are thousands of books on how to dress properly for skiing or biking, or how to cook, but virtually no manuals on how to negotiate successfully, such that the result is always a win-win situation. I had a student once who wrote his thesis on the role of negotiation in the Meiji Restoration, with special reference to Sakamoto Ryoma. He needed a reasonable working hypothesis on negotiation as an art or science, but was surprised to find that very much material was published in the US, and especially by schools like the Harvard Business School. There was very little in Japanese. I think there is a moral somewhere, especially for those practising a Japanese art like aikido.

Best wishes--and apologies in advance for any thread drift.


Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 11-06-2009 at 06:23 AM.

P A Goldsbury
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