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Defusing aggression: can you apply the Buddha method?

In 2015, the whole of France was confronted with the most violent form of aggression: the murderous attacks of 7 January and those of 13 November. There was also the beheading by 35-year-old delivery driver Yassin Salhi of his employer, the sales manager of ATC Transport, following an argument with him two days earlier.

On another front, France's social landscape is regularly rocked by industrial action that degenerates. Whether it's the thousands of farmers who marched with their tractors last September, the employees of Air France or the hostage-taking of the Human Resources Director at Goodyear Dunlop Tires France, to name just three recent examples, these various conflicts have generated aggression that has turned violent. Psychologists refer to this as acting out.

But aggression is not confined to the political or social spheres. Everyone can be confronted with it on a daily basis in their professional negotiations or in their private lives: faced with a complaint from a dissatisfied customer, a disgruntled colleague or a screaming teenager.

What are the usual manifestations of aggression and what spontaneous reactions do they trigger?

  • 1. Building confidence without overloading it

Aggression can take different forms: verbal (insults, threats, intimidation) ; physics (acting out, pushing, hitting, etc.); or psychological (disrespect, incivilities, bullying). It often arises from a dispute or conflict. It is always triggered by something that may be a simple misunderstanding or misapprehension about a problem. Poorly managed, it can lead to a multitude of negative emotions such as frustration and anger.

Blinded by these feelings, the common temptation of belligerents is to confuse the problem to be solved with the person. From then on, they will forget that even among animals who fight to mark their territories, the victor never or very rarely finishes off the vanquished. In other words, aggression and violence towards someone with whom we disagree are not necessarily inevitable.

Confronted with these situations, which generate a great deal of tension, the 3 most common natural reactions are - respondtransfer or break - unfortunately tend to complicate the situation rather than resolve it. These reactions are bad because they either escalate the situation or call into question our interests.

How can you defuse aggression and avoid using your behaviour to provoke an irrational escalation?

On his way to a village, Buddha was accosted by some young hooligans who began to criticise him aggressively. He calmly sat down on a rock and waited for them to finish their invective, then said to them: "Usually, when you want to give people joy, you have to spend a lot of money and make all sorts of preparations. However, without any effort, without spending a single penny, I have allowed you to rejoice by criticising Me. Since you seem to derive so much joy from criticising Me, I am responsible for your joy. You see, instead of being unhappy because of your criticisms, I am really happy because I have been able to give you happiness".

Then Buddha continued: "Suppose a beggar knocks at your door asking for alms and you bring him some food. Let's also suppose that this food is not the kind of alms he expects and let's admit that he doesn't accept it. What would you do? You would say: if you don't want what I'm giving you, I'll take it back and keep it for myself.

In the same way, you offer me your criticisms, that is your alms to Me. You surely think that I need your opinion and offer it to Me freely, but I don't accept it. So who does it go to? Well, it is returned to you, it remains with you and belongs to you". (Extract from the teachings of the Indian spiritual master Sathya Sai Baba)

In this legend, Buddha teaches us three effective approaches to dealing with aggression. I have added three others drawn from the experience of renowned negotiators.

  • Negotiate with yourself first to avoid reacting

Put yourself above the fray by sitting, like Buddha, on a rock. There are several techniques for standing back. Everyone needs to find their own. Personally, I like to count backwards from 100 to 0. For his part, William Ury talks about " Climbing onto the balcony "It's a good way of illustrating the fact that it's important not to overreact. The secret is to succeed in cutting the link between the emotion you are feeling and the natural reaction that follows (wanting to defend yourself).

  • Then give the other person a gift and let them let off steam

Just like Buddha, allow the person you are talking to to vent. Welcome their emotion without opposition or rejection. At some point, it's the breathlessness that will stop the surge. Even the biggest wave, when it meets no obstacles, ends up washing up on the shore with a light froth.

  • Finally, like Buddha, refuse the other person's gift by not answering "tac tac". 

This is a trap that you need to know how to avoid. If you retaliate in the face of attack and aggression, the infernal cycle of escalation inevitably sets in: attack/defence/justification/counter-attack. Mimicry in behaviour (as René Girard has shown) exacerbates conflict, with the risk of intensifying it and turning it into an irrational escalation.

If someone sends you a registered letter and you don't accept it, the post office will return it to the sender. The same applies to criticism and the aggression that accompanies it. If you don't accept it, it inevitably goes back to the person who made it.

  • Move into the other person's camp to show understanding 

Remember, understanding the other person in no way means agreeing. So, not only are you not going to retort or reject, but you are going to rephrase in your own words what the other person is saying or feeling. This is likely to surprise them, and you'll be more likely to get them to open up in turn. You could, for example, say to your furious partner: "... I don't know what you're talking about... I can hear what you're saying to me and I can also hear that you're angry and that you resent me" .

  • Focus on the problem, not the person 

Apply the teachings of Aikido or Jiu-Jitsu to your negotiations. When faced with aggression, avoid direct confrontation by redirecting your opponent's attack on you so that it becomes an attack on the problem and the subject under discussion.

  • Communicate about communication 

Rather than talking about the problem, discuss the way in which the person you're talking to approaches it: " If you're telling me that in order to reach an agreement, I need to shout even louder than you, even if it's not my usual way, then I'm ready to do it. ".

In conclusion

With these six approaches, you can change the rules of the game by making it clear to the person you are talking to that aggression will get you nowhere and that the only way to solve the problem is through constructive dialogue.

Now, if all these approaches don't work, stop negotiating and ask for a recess. If it's a heated exchange with your child, send him back to his room and tell him that the discussion will resume once he's calmed down. This will allow both of you to step back and possibly reduce the tension. Keep your objective in mind: it's the problem that needs to be solved, not the person. Then give the other person a gift by letting them vent.

See also

the European Negotiation Centre, quoted in Le Point.

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