Negotiation as a Martial Art
Last weekend I had the privilege of holding my workshop for a group of spunky young women. This was the grand finale of a 3-day training session for Pretty Deadly’s self-defence trainers.
Pretty Deadly was founded by 20-year martial arts expert Susie Kahlich. It provides self-defence training and workshops tailored to the daily realities of women. Kahlich, herself a survivor of a spine-chilling assault that inspired her to found Pretty Deadly, describes it as a self-defense rather than a martial arts programme, as many women find themselves wondering not how they can better prepare for the fights they pick, but rather how they are able to fend off the different forms of aggression turned at them in their day-to-day life.
Self-Defence and Negotiation
Pretty Deadly has a common language with my negotiation workshops in many ways, as both focus on recognising and using our natural capabilities as strengths and working tools. Two critical skills, in both realms, are setting well-defined boundaries (or identifying when your boundaries are crossed), and trusting your natural capabilities and judgment.
Pretty Deadly’s training must be very effective because this group felt advanced- each member could quickly identify her points of strength in negotiation and how to use them effectively. A more talented me would feel inclined to draw a super-hero banner of this wonder-woman squad, wielding weapons of femininity, fact-checking, self-confidence, and mental flexibility, all the while keeping their eye on the prize!
Both worlds have much to learn from each other. We discussed how to confidently step into a negotiation, and how to ground yourself in who you are authentically, rather than counting on cheap tricks and emulating others as negotiation methods.
Disney’s badass Mulan owning and leveraging her own capabilities for success, rather than being dragged down by social misconceptions
The most important topic in this workshop for me was how intertwined the concepts of the space we take up physically and metaphysically are when it comes to negotiation. The implications of this must be dealt with in earnest, and I don’t mean using “get big and wear power ties” shticks.
In a way, martial arts are a physical spatial negotiation. So is negotiating the space you are given on a bus, around a meeting table, or in a bar when that drunk guy is way over the line of your personal boundaries. That physical spatial negotiation is directly linked to the metaphysical space we take up, and as we reclaim that space, we must learn to reclaim it in both ways.
De-linking physical strength from negotiation:
I’ve known people who weigh under 50 kilos and take up more space in a room than someone twice their size. So though it may have some psychological effect, there is no law of physics that constitutes brawn as the only parameter for filling a room with your presence. As we no longer live in prehistory, we need to understand this- fear of physical pain or violence should not be an element in a healthy negotiation in today’s world. It should be irrelevant in day-to-day negotiation and so the age-old reflexes that cause us to flinch in the face of chauvinism must be cast aside when we negotiate.
How to deal with aggression?
If you do find yourself in a situation where violence, even verbal, is a factor, you better leave or sound the alarm. Be it with a partner, in the workplace, or with a co presidential-candidate- violence should be a non-starter to civilised negotiation, regardless of if you are a man or a woman, and should be called out as unacceptable from the first moment.
This is also the main difference I see between the two fields: it should not be taken for granted that a dynamic of offense and defence is necessary in day-to-day negotiations.
Just like in martial arts, shedding old reflexes and developing our negotiation capabilities take training and practice. But let me tell you, the satisfaction of negotiating successfully for yourself comes pretty close to the satisfaction of realising you’re able to deliver a mid-air drop kick.