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What I learned about managing conflict from 260 Tibetan Monks

thrangu-monastery-final-dayIn 2005 I became the first foreigner to live in the 1300 year old Thrangu Monastery in Tibet.  For 3 months I lived with 260 Buddhist monks in the ancient Monastery, on the side of a mountain in Kham, eastern Tibet.  After an unforgettable 90 days, it’s a mystery to me why foreigners have ever been allowed back.

Here are some surprising things you may not know about Tibetan monks: They eat copious amounts of meat, they do not completely reject material possessions (they have a particular interest in nice watches) and they love NBA basketball.  That may not be true across Tibet, but it was certainly the case in Thrangu.

Anyways, my goal was to study the link between Buddhism and Negotiation/ Conflict Management.  I can’t sum up everything I learned from my time in Tibet in a single blog post (that would take two posts), but I will start by sharing one Buddhist parable I heard along the way:

There was once a man rowing his boat up a river on a sunny afternoon, when he saw another boat coming downstream headed in his direction.  To avoid a collision he rowed slightly to the left.  Just then, however, the other boat turned to its right making them again set on a crash course.  The man then steered back to the right, but the other boat made the same move.  Getting nervous he went far to the left but the other boat too went that way.  The man started shouting at the other boat and steering the other way, but every time he turned the other boat seemed like a mirror following his course.  The man screamed and in a rage began waving his arms and shaking his fists. “You FOOL!! Watch out!!  We’re going to crash!”, he yelled.  The more angry he got, the more he tried to avoid the boat until BAM!!! The two boats crashed.  As water began seeping in, the man stood up.  Unable to contain his rage he raised his fist, leapt into the other boat and screamed “you IDIO….”, but was silenced by what he saw before him.  There was no one in the other boat.  It was simply the river’s current pulling the boat from right to left.

In conflicts at work and at home, we usually become the man in the boat.  We imagine that the other side is intentionally out to get us, purposely blocking us from getting where we want to go.  While that does occasionally happen, more often than not we’re imagining what’s going on in their head.  We see that our path is blocked and assume the other person is intentionally blocking us.

Even though some clashes are unavoidable, assuming the other person is out to get us usually just serves to raise our blood pressure and even our fists.

When was the last time you realized you were the man, or woman in the boat?

About the author: Hi I’m Dan Green, blogger, entrepreneur, documentary film producer and negotiation specialist. I’ve helped executives negotiate deals worth up to 400 million USD. But before you read on…

4 comments… add one

  • R

    Thank you for sharing this – it’s lovely to picture that era of your life and to learn from it.

  • John Napolitano

    Learning lessons with stories is fun.

    Reading this story was fun.

    Thank you for the fun lesson.

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