Negotiation Mastery Blog

Make love to your enemies!

In the world of work, we often have an enemy. It could be our boss who hates us and gives us more work than the laws of physics allow; it could be that colleague who blocks everything we do or even think of doing; it could be the finance director who slashes our budget out of spite, smiling and increasing everyone else’s at the same time.

It can be a major problem. It can prevent us reaching our business goals, it can hold us back in our career, it can impact our happiness at work and can even hit our health.

Let me make a suggestion: make love to them.

Speaking metaphorically, of course. But we tend to instinctively revert to fight or flight – come out all guns blazing or hide in the toilet – and neither approach usually produces the best outcome. So maybe it is wise to consider a different strategy.

For a start, you could learn from Abraham Lincoln who said, ‘I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better’. Understand their perspective more and maybe you will find a reason for their behaviour. Or you just may appreciate they are experiencing difficulties of their own so you may give them more leeway. Any insight into how to work with them effectively will be useful.

They may actually be looking for the fight, so disarm them by not responding. Find out their story, find out their motivations, help them. Find out something you have in common. Find a common enemy.

Do them a favour, they will probably feel indebted. Perhaps better, according to Benjamin Franklin, is get them to do you a favour. Then cognitive dissonance kicks in and it will turn them around to your side.

And visualise your relationship improving. Often we expect an interaction to be uncomfortable and it becomes so. But imagine it going well, and it is much more likely to.

This might all sound hippy, pie-in-the-sky thinking but it frequently works, even in extreme cases. The Reverend Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness spent their lives fighting each other in mortal hatred until they found themselves sharing an office as First Minister and deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive. The result? A great friendship and a very productive working relationship. They even became known as the Chuckle Brothers, such was their behaviour in press conferences. Oh, and there was that small by-product of peace in Northern Ireland, as well.

Ok, I am not saying there is a magic wand that works in all cases and I am not saying it is always easy.

But it is possible. When Reagan and Gorbachev first met, the meeting went as badly as you might imagine. Halfway through, Ronald Reagan, to his eternal credit, recognised this and said, “This isn’t going very well, is it? Can we start again?” He put out his hand and said, “Hi, my name is Ron. Can I call you Mikhail?”. At that point the Cold War ended.

Make love to your enemy and maybe your cold war can end too.

*This article first appeared in City AM