Verbal Aikido

Dear Coach,

You’ve mentioned “Verbal Aikido.” What is it and how do you use it?



Dear Richard,

Conventional martial arts center on blocking strikes and then striking attackers. These arts are defensive in nature yet can result in the injury or death of the attacker.

By contrast, Aikido centers on blending with the attacker, conserving your energy and maintaining your balance as you maneuver the attacker to a position where no one gets hurt. Instead of fight, flight, or freeze, you engage with your opponent. Instead of blocking and striking, you blend in, moving with the attackers while maintaining your balance and conserving your energy, and while attackers to expend their energy and struggle to maintain their balance.

The principles of physical Aikido apply to verbal Aikido. Instead of a limbic fight/flight/freeze mindset, you remain curious, “How can I best defuse this hostile encounter and end it on a constructive note?” Verbal Aikido has a lot in common with the No-FEAR technique described here.

Here’s a personal experience.

At a bar late on a Friday night, a large and clearly inebriated man took exception to something I said. He put his face close to mind and made it clear he had aggression on his mind.

I responded by asking questions. At one point the man who was Black said, “I’m from Northeast Portland and I haven’t been shot!”

I said, “that reminds me of a quote by Winston Churchill.”

“I don’t like Churchill!” the man said.

“You may like this quote: ‘There is nothing so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.’”

The man was silent, so I repeated the quote.

The man’s body posture and facial expression changed. He smiled and said, “You know what – I do like that quote.” We shook hands and the incident was over.

Hopefully, you won’t need Verbal Aikido to avoid a bar fight. However, I bet you’ll find the technique useful in situations where you feel verbally attacked. For example, someone says to you, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” This statement could produce a fight response: “Well, you’re the stupidest person I ever met!” Or flight: “I’m out of here!” Or freeze: “Uh, uh . . . uh.”

An Aikido response would be to ask a question such as “What makes it the stupidest thing you ever heard?” Or, “Wow, the #1 stupidest thing ever. What’s #2?” Either way you turn the attack into a verbal exchange using your listening skills to deescalate the conflict.

Like any soft skill, verbal Aikido takes practice. As I mentioned before, the critical ingredient is curiosity. Throughout the encounter, focus on what is prompting your opponent to act as he/she acts or say what he/she says. What might you say or do that would redirect their thinking from a “fight” state of mind to one without anger or hostility? Being curious makes room for other options to be considered, creating opportunities for constructive outcomes.



Jathan Janove is a Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching Master Coach and Practice Leader. You can learn more about him here. If you have a question you’d like him to address, please email us at


Leave a Reply

Your email is safe with us.




Submit your question to Jathan Janove and get expert guidance on leadership, personal growth, and professiotnal development.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap