Matt Aaron reached out to me and noted that most books that apply aikido principles to business are either for large corporations -- or aren't very good. With a background in aikido and client management, Matt brings us some more small-business-oriented insights.
“Stay in control and exude stability, even if you don’t feel too sure of yourself just yet.” - Stuart Wilde
Many business books and articles talk recommend the philosophy of Aikido: Use the force of the enemy against him.
The content of “Business Aikido” is either vague and not very good (like this one) or it focuses on big business.
It is not an easy concept to apply. After all, most people you will deal with are not exactly your enemies.
For our purposes, let's interpret the word enemy to include anyone that becomes an obstacle in your work. The point of contact at your client's company that rarely responds to emails or phone calls. Or perhaps a programmer who fails to complete the work you need done.
How do you take a Japanese martial art and apply it to managing clients?
Let them know you are paying attention
One thing that stands out in an Aikido class are the behavioral differences between advanced and beginner students.
(Note: everybody is a student, including 6th degree black belts who make a living teaching seminars around the world. Think about that).
From posture to movements to tone of voice, the advanced students exhibit a higher level of awareness.
Ready. They also tend to anticipate things that need to be done. Maybe a flaw in the footwork of students that needs to be addressed.
Beginners often zone out or lack attention to the key details when being taught a technique by our Sensei.
When it is time to practice the technique, the lack of attention shows in their difficulty to perform it.
Now imagine you are on an important conference call with your client: Are you surfing the web/checking email during the call?
Let's say the client plans to launch a new product. Are you proactively making suggestions on the launch strategy?
The client needs to know that you are looking out for them. Really pay attention to what they say; to what they want. And show them that you are doing it. Perception is everything.
Sending monthly reports and keeping frequent contact correlates strongly with client retention and expanded budgets.
To receive an attack in Aikido, you must blend to the opponent's energy. If you try to fight back and tense up, you lose your balance. You become weak; susceptible to defeat.
We can keep the Aikido example pretty short here: Almost all broken bones in Aikido occur because of someone tensing up their body.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from the CEO (let's call him Javier) of a client. This was in response to an email I had sent out to someone else at the company proposing an in-person meeting.
Javier has the power to read any emails sent on the company's domain (I know, right?). He responded to the email, CC'ing 5 other people and said that “Without reviewing statistics, I think the project is going quite poorly. I thought you promised that we were going to be the envy of our competitors.”
Man, that pissed me off. First off, while Javier is the ultimate decision, he has had just about zero awareness of what is actually going on. Second, the project is going really well. And third, I never made such a claim.
I started to craft my response almost instantly. The project IS going well. Please review the facts, etc. contentious tone. Because of my own shortcomings in self-control, I was off balance and in danger of making a costly error.
Luckily, the email was discarded. I went for walk and a cafe breakfast. I regained my balance.
Back at my desk, I sent an email in a calm, positive tone asking if he had received the February report and here was an attached copy in case you haven't (he is CC'd on every email, so he had received it)
Without addressing his baseless claims or taking a hostile tone, my reply blended his email and turned it against him so to speak. His attack was deflected the indisputably positive report.
And by using the common “reply-all” feature, the the 5 other people went from being witnesses of a poor consultant to an asset of competence and value.
If you want to explore this subject in greater depth, I highly recommend:
The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei by George Leonard
Silent Power by Stuart Wilde
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