Recognizing destabilization

To understand destabilization in a verbal exchange, first picture what it looks like in a physical attack. The aggressor may throw a punch, and the martial Aikido practitioner moves in a way that:

Ueshiba destabilizing an attack
  • – avoids receiving the punch,
  • – positions himself alongside the aggressor,
  • – allows the force of the attack to continue until the aggressor loses balance.

The technique is the same with Verbal Aikido. Your accompanying posture leads an aggressor to a point of momentary imbalance or an energy shift. Simply receiving the attack with an Inner Smile and allowing the attack to continue in a controlled fashion, without resistance, can be enough to create this energy shift. Unfortunately, we are often caught off guard with an attack. Having an accompanying verbal reflex like the ones given in this lesson, gives us time to regain our centered posture and proceed confidently in the exchange.

Whether we are practicing on the verbal mat or dealing with a real-life exchange, the “aggressor” lends his hand and gives us the opportunity to practice. We can continue to perceive the energy we receive as aggressive or as an opportunity to learn, to practice and to connect. We may perceive our aggressor as our partner.

“Keep your original balance and your opponent will have nowhere to strike. In fact, your opponent is not really your opponent because you and your opponent become one. This is the beauty of the Art of Peace.”

Morihei Ueshiba

We can detect our partner’s destabilization through verbal hesitation or stuttering, but also in their non-verbal reactions: CLEM – conjugate lateral eye movement (left and right or up and down to the side); shifts in body posture such as defensive arm movement or backwards physical repositioning[1]. We indicate this destabilization with the annotation “[***]in the exchanges hereafter.

Partner: “I really don’t like this Verbal Aikido thing that you’re doing.”

Practitioner: “What do you like?”

Partner: “I like having genuine conversations. I don’t like all this intellectualizing about conversations. It just doesn’t seem right.”

Practitioner: “Genuine, I like that idea. For you, what is a genuine conversation?”

Partner: “Well, [***] (momentary destabilization) when you just go with flow. When you’re just authentic. When you’re real with the person. And this kind of thing just seems very sociopathic and manipulative. I just don’t like it.”

Practitioner: “OK. What sort of system to manage conflict peacefully would make sense for you?”

Partner: “[***] Ehh…” (sufficient destabilization to propose an “Us” move/Aiki)

Practitioner: “Would you like to hear what I’ve discovered? We could compare experiences…”

During Verbal Aikido training, a student might forget the non-competitive philosophy of the art, and ask: “If we have destabilized the aggressor, surely we can just leave them destabilized”, or “If they started the attack, don’t they really deserve to get hurt?” However, it is central in our approach to give our partner opportunities to save face for the following reasons:

  • – If our partner is “let fall” or left in a destabilized position, this often generates a desire for reprisal or to ‘settle the scores’ at a later date.
  • – If you found yourself in a similar situation and the other person moved to destabilize you, wouldn’t you like an opportunity to save face?
  • – Whether your demonstration of a gracious verbal maneuver without the intention of shaming, humiliating, or dominating your partner “rubs off” on them or not, they will eventually look elsewhere if they seek domination or conflict.

A destabilization is an energy shift; a turning point where there is an opportunity to go in a direction other than escalation. We have all experienced a point in an exchange where we lose our calm and embrace the conflict. By choosing to accompany, you slide into an opening, neutral state, declining to add to the potential negative outcome of the encounter.

[1] A more extensive list of destabilization indicators is provided in the book From Conflict to Conversation

Recognizing destabilization