Comfortable with Conflict

No matter how meek and mild I might consider myself, there will always be times that I need to stand up for something or push back, and just get used to the fact of the conflict.

And sometimes, that’s still a profoundly uncomfortable experience. So how can I make it less so?

Last night, I was teaching an Aikido exercise that forms a response to a punch (or “poke” as we call it, as it could also come from a knife). Although it’s not really a beginner’s technique, I was walking a newcomer through the exercise slowly.

He started his attack with his body almost looking away – if his partner was at 12 o’clock, the front of his body was facing 9 o’clock. I repeated my instruction several times to turn to his body to face his partner, and yet it didn’t happen.

At the moment of contact, he had turned his body 180 degrees so that he was facing 3 o’clock and was looking away from his partner.

These two things – and the fact that repeated invitations to correct his posture weren’t taken up – made me think that this wasn’t lack of familiarity with the attack, but rather his habitual pattern for dealing with conflict.

There are at least two parties in an Aikido exercise – two parties in an argument (even if one of them is my imagination) – and they both have a weight to bear during the conflict: one has to impose pressure, the other to withstand it.

Such a face-off isn’t particularly comfortable for either person. Last night’s student looked uncomfortable imposing the pressure in the conflict – looking away at the point of contact.

Seeing that made me wonder how I apply pressure – I know it’s not something that I enjoy. In fact, I’ve spent most of my life pressure-adverse, and believing that I don’t have the necessary skills to apply pressure.

My story around pressure has been that I just don’t do that sort of thing – it’s not classy, right, etc. And yet, and yet. I have been a great believer in the ‘Love’ part of the equation; and more than slightly anti the ‘Power’ part.

However, being a parent has stretched that nice point of view beyond breaking point – I love and love and love my children, and still snap into fury at the challenges they lay before me.

My explosions of anger are unskillful and ineffective. I hope that Love will take me beyond the anger and frustration, and yet that doesn’t happen. Well, of course not: anger is the sign that something I hold dear is being violated as it really is when my children misbehave.

So, there are times when it would be more skillful to work with Power, rather than with Love. (I’m not suggesting that the two are mutually exclusive, by the way) And to do that effectively, I have to be comfortable applying Power, imposing it on someone else. Thus we come back to last night’s exercise: as attacker we are seeking to impose our power on someone else, and to do that powerfully and effectively.

It’s no good looking away at the moment of contact or not following through, because these will weaken the delivery of the power. We have to be present in what we’re doing, and comfortable enough to direct all our energy into that contact.

For me the interesting thing is: I can do that time and time again, because it is action with a very special context – one without anger, frustration, power over – it’s done to enable the other person to learn how to deal with my power elegantly and efficiently. By directing power towards the other, I am providing them with the single vital ingredient that they need in order to learn how to deal with power. By being powerful, I’m doing them a favour.

If this sounds like a challenge for you, too, you might like to spend some time with me studying ways to become more comfortable and effective directing your power. I offer group and one-to-one coaching in Leadership Embodiment which uses the body to deepen your capacity to put your point so that others really hear it. Contact me to book a free, no-obligation consultation. I’d love to help you get more comfortable with your power, and see the change take effect.

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