In my live Verbal Aikido workshops, I demonstrate the martial art Aikido and offer it as a strategy for diffusing anger. I began teaching this unconventional approach to managing conflict after having my breath taken away as I watched Steven Segal effortlessly defeat his opponents without violence or aggression in half a dozen of his movies. Aikido is a non-violent martial art that never meets force with force and can be applied to conflict situations with demanding, irate or unreasonable customers. (I’ve personally used Aikido in situations with customers, employees, and co-workers.) Using the principles of Aikido, you too can diffuse anger and demonstrate fantastic control over all aspects of verbal attacks.
People using “verbal aikido” can respond to heated situations directly and assertively without being pulled into the drama of the battle, and they can lay the foundation for win-win resolutions that maintain the customer’s loyalty – even with angry customers. Here are 6 Aikido principles that will help you more effectively respond to anger.
1. An Aikidoist strategically calms down the attack. This is done by both the use of relaxed body posture and open hands. Verbal attacks from irate customers also need the same calming strategy. In Aikido, the master will step aside rather than confront the attack. This takes power and speed out of the attack and allows the master to stay centered and calm. When you respond to your customer with “Clearly, we’ve upset you and getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” anger begins to dissipate. You’ve addressed the anger directly and non defensively, and you haven’t been pulled into the drama of the attack.
2. Aikido never meets force with force. In fact, there are no direct attacks and very little striking or kicking. When dealing with angry customers, it is natural to respond to attack with an attack. If the customer yells, we escalate our voice. When the attack gets personal, we become defensive and less willing to work with the customer. While we may feel justified in launching our attack because we’ve been attacked, we must realize that a defensive (forceful) response only escalates the original problem. Let’s learn from the Aikido masters and not attack back defensively. Instead, we will respond carefully and strategically.
3. Aikido emphasizes quick, decisive movements that are designed to use the attacker’s force against him. This is done through evasive movements, body shifting, and leverage. Taking this to a verbal level, you’d take a customer’s intensity and sense of urgency and use that to your advantage with a reply like: “No question, we’ve messed up. Getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” Instead of letting the customer’s intimidation tactics negatively impact you, you turn that energy back at the customer by pacing his actions.
4. Aikidoists blend with their opponent’s energy. In Aikido, this looks as if you move toward your opponent and then change places with them. In a verbal attack, blending with your customer is finding common ground with the customer. You can blend with your angry customer by listening with a sincere intent to understand their pain, frustration, and needs and then responding with empathy. The knowledge you gain from listening to your customer becomes your force and positions you to redirect the energy in a productive direction. Once you’ve blended with the customer, that is, once you truly understand the customer’s situation, the attack can be neutralized and redirected.
5. Aikido students learn to turn with their opponent’s force and let that force go past them. When we respond to angry customers in this way, we’re able to keep our cool when customers get hot. We don’t get caught up in the emotion of anger. Instead, we allow the customer to express his feelings, and we don’t take comments personally, and we don’t allow our feelings (anger, rejection, offense) to control our responses.
6. An Aikido Master never seeks to kill his opposition. When we transfer this principle to customer service situations, we realize that our goal is to never hang up on a customer, blow a customer off, or “fire” a difficult customer. Our goal is to find more diplomatic ways to communicate and reach win-win resolutions.
7. In Aikido, all opponents are considered partners. Think of your angry customer as your partner and let this mindset direct you to use interactive dialogue to work with your customer to solve the problem. Try to not resist or coerce your “partner.” Work with your partner, talk with your partner, and seek solutions that benefit the customer and the company.
Applying the principles of Aikido to challenging situations with unhappy customers allows you to maintain composure and control, and efficiently diffuse anger. The next time you’re faced with a demanding customer, why not go Steven Segal…you’ll have fun and you’ll be amazed how productive you’ll be!