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How conflict management is like Parkour

“I can do Parkour for the rest of my life without even moving, just efficient thinking.”
~ Ryan Doyle

If you are not sure what Parkour is, here is how Wikipedia describes it:

Parkour (sometimes abbreviated PK) is a method of movement focused on moving around obstacles with speed and efficiency. Originally developed in France, the main purpose of the discipline is to teach participants how to move through their environment by vaulting, rolling, running, climbing and jumping. Traceurs (parkour practitioners) train to be able to identify and utilize alternate or the more efficient paths. 

Better yet, watch this video “Ryan Doyle parkour in Mardin” to get a feel.

Since I can barely move around obstacles even in a slow fashion without knocking something over or bruising myself, Parkour is quite fascinating for me to watch.  It also strikes me that conflict management is like a verbal Parkour.  They have a few things in common.

While obstacles that parties in conflict  face are not made of brick and concrete, they can sometimes give an impression that you are running into a wall.  As conflict management practitioners, we help our clients navigate through their own obstacle course.   We use a variety of tools and interventions, depending on the skills of the participants and the nature of the course.  We may encourage storytelling to build trust.  We give parties an opportunity and space to be heard.  We question to uncover hidden negative assumptions and blocks.  We reframe to deepen understanding.  We trust the process to turn polarizing into problem-solving.  But we can’t run the course for our clients.

Traceurs take the most direct path through an obstacle. They want speed, but they can’t compromise safely.  Similarly, in a conflict situation, the desire to reach an agreement as quickly as possible has to be balanced against long-term relationship goals and the risk of false conformity.  Just like one cannot expect to run a Parkour course successfully without proper training, we have to respect the time and pace it takes for the clients to prepare to deal with the issues effectively.  Rush too much, and you risk the collapse of any agreement.

According to “Two Theories on Parkour Philosophy” from Parkour North America, “Parkour is a means of reclaiming what it means to be a human being. It teaches us to move using the natural methods that we should have learned from infancy. It teaches us to touch the world and interact with it, instead of being sheltered by it.”  This need for self-expression, human connection and meaning is also at the core of conflict management.  Just like traceurs feel the surfaces with their hands, our clients need to develop the trust in their ability to handle raw emotions without damaging their sense of self-worth.  The hope is that through better self-awareness and more effective methods of social interaction, they may be able to drop the armor that shields them from the world and express themselves with openness, clarity and respect.

And there is more on Parkour philosophy and practice from Urban Discipline: “It is as much as a part of truly learning the physical art as well as being able to master the movements, it gives you the ability to overcome your fears and pains and reapply this to life; as you must be able to control your mind in order to master the art of parkour.”  Ryan Doyle in the video above talks about mental rehearsal as a necessary step to program both the mind and the body for the course.  Conflict management is also about mastering the mind.  It’s about identifying old, unproductive patterns of dealing with issues and envisioning new possibilities.  It’s about gradually focusing the mind on positive behaviors that create new pathways in the brain and strengthen them with enough repetition to turn them into a habit.  It’s about turning uncertainty and negativity into curiosity and creative search for solutions.

The physical environment is essential to Parkour.   While the influence of the physical environment on conflict management is less understood, research shows that  it has a big impact on cognitive function and decision-making.  The ‘broken windows’ hypothesis tells us that that public places with signs of decay and neglect encourage crime and antisocial behaviour. A recent study shows that messy surroundings also make people more likely to stereotype others.   In contrast, interacting with nature dramatically improves cognitive function and restores our ability to exercise directed attention and working memory.  It turns out that the mere presence of plants in an office setting boosts one’s ability to maintain attention.  This interplay of our physical world, perception and behavior is of special interest to me.   As Alva Noë put it,  “Consciousness requires the joint operation of brain, body, and world.”

Last but not least, Parkour is also an art.  It encourages people to appreciate the beauty of the movement and the surroundings.  Art has a role to play in conflict management as well. From storytelling to visuals to improv,  art can help people get in touch with their own emotions and cultivate self-awareness.  Creative expression and creative play lower defenses and open up the mind to new possibilities, leading to insights and breakthroughs.

And sometimes Parkour encourages a different form of art, as in the video below (Hat Tip to @christophemorin on Twitter)

parkour motion reel by Suchablog

By | 2011-09-06T17:29:27+00:00 September 6th, 2011|Communication, Conflict Management, Peak Performance|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. […] found this article on Parkour and Conflict Management by Anastasis Pryanikova particularly thought provoking for practitioners of Alternative Dispute […]

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