When I was a kid, I used to do judo. I never advanced that far though. The highest belt I earned was a yellow belt, which if you don’t know is just the second of six belts. What I did like about judo was that it was designed as a self-defense martial art compared with karate and kung fu, which always seemed more aggressive to me. I remember one of our judo teachers asking which was one of the strongest trees in creation. We all thought it must be the oak tree and was baffled, when we were told it was the willow tree. Why is it one of the strongest trees in creation? The answer is, because of its ability to flex with the rain and wind — it’s able to bend. The lesson our teacher was teaching was that, in judo you have to be able to bend with the aggression that’s coming at you from your opponent — to let their aggression flow past you and to attempt to tire the other person. When the opponent was tired out you were better able to end the conflict (by throwing them or wrestling them to the ground for submission) and win the match.
Why do I tell you this? Well, if you were to ask me for my top tip in today’s workplace for conflict resolution, it would be to be as flexible as the willow tree. If you’re experiencing conflict with a boss, peer, direct report or customer, try and see the situation from their perspective. Rather than being defensive and aggressive, really listen to what is causing the other person to feel the way they feel. Let them finish their sentences. Really listen to understand not with the intent of responding. Ask for clarification where necessary. Paraphrase back to ensure understanding. In doing so, you are pouring water on the fire rather than adding the gasoline that most people do, when conflict and confusion occurs. Ask the other person what solutions would rectify the situation. If you, your department or your organization have messed up, sincerely ask forgiveness and commit to personally do all you can to correct the issue.