7 September 2015

Drawing your own chalk circle

Your safe space

When Bruce Lee taught in the US he had a student called Joe Hyams who was struggling with tensing up in sparring and it slowed his moves and made it hard for him to react in time. Bruce invited Joe to his house on on the driveway, asked him to stand still and extend one leg out as far as it would go. Joe then pivoted slowly around as Bruce drew a chalk circle around him, the radius was the length of the extended leg.

Bruce stood back from the circle and made some aggressive moves and Joe stiffened awaiting the attack. Bruce asked why he was so tense as because from that distance he could not cause any harm.  He then went to the edge of the circle, Joe started to tense up again and Bruce chided him “I’m still not close enough to do you any harm, so why don’t you relax?” 

Bruce then stepped into the circle and Joe instinctively retreated. “Good” Bruce said, “you have moved your circle back so I am not a threat to you.”

When the opponent is inside your circle and you cannot retreat any further you must fight. Until then you should maintain your control.

Bruce Lee showing the edge of his circle

Google can be an intense, high pressure place to work now and then it gets to the best of us and we lash out at others around us. Recently a Product Manager (PM) was frustrated with the speed of the project which was slowed down by the large number of groups involved, all with their own agendas. He made personal attacks and threatened to remove me from the project unless I did exactly the UI he wanted rather than take the time to gather sufficient research evidence to make sure it was the right UI for the product. 

My natural instinct is to react to bullies with aggression and attack back meeting hostility with hostility. As design ninjas, we have faced down dangerous people who want to do us physical harm in sparring competitions and this helps us keep perspective in situations like this where the hostility is no real threat. There is no need to react aggressively when you can keep them at the edge of your mental circle. 

A would-be intimidator thrives on evoking a response from his intended victim. When there is none he quickly wears out and this happened in the conversation with the PM. I clearly stated all the facts in the defense of the UX team, and also calmly talked about ways we can evolve our process to show the PM he was heard. Once the aggression died down we were in a position where we could have an agreement of how to move forward effectively and try to avoid the frustration building up in the future. 

I am not saying it always goes like this for me, you have to be in the right state of mind to have a mental circle with any width to stay calm within and this can be a hard state to exist in with project pressures. It is something that can grow with regular martial arts training and meditation.

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