I had a chance at the SXSW Interactive Conference this week, to attend an introductory session on how the principles of the martial art of Aikido can be applied to resolving workplace and other conflicts. The presenters used the symbols of sword, shield and withdrawal to illustrate three basic ways of initiating or responding to conflict. For example, someone pushing toward your center can be met with a counter-thrust, or a block, or by running away. When we practiced learning how to recognize these attacks and responses, it almost felt like a game of rock-paper-scissors. Our choices might be dictated by our own instinctive approaches to conflict, or by our perceptions of what would work best against our opponent.
This sounds to me a lot like what we teach in negotiated conflict resolution. The most enlightened methods to achieve a consensual resolution do not rely on arguing with the other side about the validity of their contentions, or denying their claims, or running away. Instead, a good negotiator will try to understand--and even embrace the contentions made by the other side, to the extent they can without harming their own interests--and then attempt to channel those ideas and interests in a harmonious direction.