Last week I was very fortunate to attend the Mary Heiny Sensei Aikido seminar. Heiny Sensei is an amazing teacher who has been practicing Aikido for over forty-five years, more can be found about her amazing journey here.
By the end of the day I had left with lots of great insights into technical and philosophical aspects of Aikido, however there was one idea that really struck close to home.
During the practice, Heiny Sensei shared a tip from one of her own teachers: “When someone grabs you, don’t focus where you’ve been grabbed. Focus on where you are free”.
This piece of advice makes perfect sense from the martial arts perspective; it is also one of the most insightful pieces of “business” advice that I have ever received.
Think about it: how many times have you felt enraged when a client was making absurd demands or using some harsh negotiating tactics on you:
- “We want a discount, otherwise we won’t buy.”
- “You better meet this deadline, or else…”
- “We want you to make changes to the layout, and we might have some more changes next week. Of course, we don’t want to pay extra, you should accommodate minor stuff.”
In many cases, my first reaction to this is to push back. However, everyone knows that pushing back often leads to more confrontation. You might win this one, and then end up with Pyrrhic victory by losing a client or ruining your long-term relationship. Incidentally, that is one of the first things you are taught in Aikido – you do not use force against force, you redirect it.
By focusing on where you are free, you mentally take a step back and look at the situation from a different angle. What is it that your client really wants? Is there a way to accomplish their objectives through different means? Maybe they need to meet this deadline because their boss is pushing them? When you talk to the boss, you find out what the real issue is. Now you have more options. More freedom. More opportunities.
After hearing the words phrased this way “Focus where you are free” I began to reflect on times that I may have used this tactic unknowingly.
I remember few years ago we worked with a Fortune 500 client that took over 9 months to close. They have been using our product for about 6 months when our internal champion left. A few weeks later we received a letter from the new manager. He asked for a full refund based on a fact that the company’s requirements have changed. Boy, was I upset. I had already drafted my response with “hell, no” being the mildest statement, but I left it in the mailbox until the next day (Which is another great piece of advice I recommend).
I went to my regular Aikido practice that night after which my mind was clear again, and I decided to focus where we were free…
The next morning I sent out an email. However, the content was changed. We offered to work with client’s list of customers and vendors to find an organization who would benefit from our product and transfer the license to them.
By focusing on where we were free to move, we were able keep our Fortune 500 client happy by returning their investment and improving our bottom line by singing up a new customer who proved to be very profitable for us.
Do not focus where you have been grabbed. Focus on where you are free.