Tuesday, July 19, 2011

From enemies to allies

In commenting on community responses to proposed closures of 20 small Tasmanian government schools, one observer wrote:  What I have noticed more than anything is the strong accord of members of the affected communities; “we need a common enemy to unite us” C.Rice.

And of course this is true - we form alliances to defeat common enenemies. But what of the long term?

The recent defeat of the government by these small school communities is not the end of the matter. And the school communities and government remain in an on-going "relationship". Remaining enemies is not to be recommended as a way forward for winners and/or losers - it will ultimately result in lose:lose outcomes. But how to make sense of the possibilities?

Peter Block, The Empowered Manager provides a simple, but hopefully useful framework: we relate to each other according the our perceptions of each other based on two dimensions:
  • the extent to which we agree or disagree with each other (especially about purposes) 
  • the extent to which we trust or distrust each other (especially about how to achieve the purposes)

There are some important principles that can be derived on this model:
  1. DON'T confuse enemies with opponents
  2. DON'T confuse bedfellows with allies
  3. AVOID enemies - they may harm you, but LEARN about them and from them if you can
  4. MINIMISE involvement with bedfellows - there are possible hidden costs here and they may disappear at critical moments
  5. VALUE and LEARN FROM one's opponents - they have a different presepective that may include important insghts and distinctions, and they have your best interests at heart
  6. ENJOY your allies - they will voluntarily contribute to your cause
  7. LEARN about yourself - your purposes, values the resources you have available
Changing enemies into allies

To make life more enjoyable (and that includes achieving success and well-being for all) one needs to change one's enemies into one's allies,

The safest, most effective path is to
  1. Change enemies into oponents by building trust
  2. Change opponents into allies by finding agreement on higher purposes and mutually acceptable ways of achieving those purposes
Note: Taking the easy option of involving bedfellows (based on nominal agreements) could be to make the Red Riding Hood error - it didn't turn out well !!
    Sun-tzu (~400BC) recommended that we should keep our friends close and our enemies closer. Good advice from ancient times.

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