Karate can help your career

You don't need to have a black belt to bring some karate smarts into your office life.
You don’t need to have a black belt to bring some karate smarts into your office life.

Susan Schorn is the author of “Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly.” She’s also a black belt in karate who says the lessons to be learned from the ancient martial art don’t end on the mat — they can help your career. Here are Schorn’s tips on how to be a black belt in business attire.

Respect yourself
People — whether they are sparring with us or supervising us — tend to follow our lead when deciding how to treat us. Realizing the value of what you do and who you are is an empowering first step toward setting healthy boundaries in the workplace.

Create space by redirecting
When an opponent’s offense threatens to overwhelm you in the sparring ring, you can gain control of the situation by turning his or her energy back. The same is true on the job. If your boss expects you to take on more work than you can handle, for example, ask for help prioritizing: “It looks like this new initiative is going to require a lot of attention. Which of the three projects I’m currently working on should I set aside to make room for it?”

Accept that energy moves in both directions
Karate focuses on give and take between opponents. That’s important in the workplace, too. But how often do you give your boss feedback? We don’t always think about communicating upward. If it’s done respectfully, it can replace a one-sided relationship with reciprocity.

Cultivate your reputation
Martial artists put a lot of effort into earning their peers’ respect. Pay attention to your reputation in the workplace. If you’re respected in other areas of your organization, your boss is more likely to value you in the office.

Practice your skills daily.

Karate techniques must be practiced until they become a natural part of your behavior. Boundary setting works the same way. It’s important to practice small skills like saying “no” or asking for a little more time or space when you need it. This builds your confidence and teaches the people around you that you understand boundaries and how to negotiate them.


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