Collaborating with the Enemy

Collaborating with the Enemy

by Caroline Cory
Adam Kahane speaking at Christ Church Photo: Caroline Cory

Have you ever worked with someone to whom you cannot completely relate? Does the thought of collaborating with a difficult person upset you? Can you remember a time when you handled a situation poorly due to your own reactions or the actions of a co-worker? These are just a few of the points raised at a Monday evening lecture held at Christ Church Cathedral.

Members of the Cincinnati community gathered inside the cathedral’s sanctuary on May 23 to better understand the problems an individual can overcome when collaborating with someone they may not prefer.

As part of the church’s Taft lecture series, ‘Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with, Like, or Trust’ was a discussion led by author and international facilitator Adam Kahane.

He centered the conversation around the three books he has penned, along with other observances and discoveries he has made throughout his career.

Kahane used five main points to identify factors that may hinder the collaboration process between two individuals, with the first of these being the mere idea that, “You need to collaborate.”

He cited that not all circumstances require collaboration but simply the use of communication instead, among other substituting methods.

Moreover, Kahane elaborated by discussing the differences between the options provided to individuals which can be seen in any situation.

“We always have these three options for moving forward: adapting, forcing and collaborating and it depends in part on the balance of power,” he said. “When we don’t have any power with us in a situation, all we can do is adapt.”

He continued to explain the options in relation to the involvement of power by citing its hand in how individuals handle a situation whether adapting, forcing or collaborating is used.

“When we have the power and have things the way we want them to be, in most cases, we force. We push through it,” he said. “We push things in the way we want to be and collaboration is actually what happens when we can’t prevail and this is important because it suggests that collaboration is actually a second-best option. It’s what you do when you can’t have it your way.”

Another point made regarded the difference between thinking in black and white where thoughts are controlled in analyzing concrete patterns and observances as opposed to thinking in shades of gray, which can be described as the reasoning behind a situation, such as a more specific way of seeing a situation.

“So, if the black in my thinking is, ‘you need to collaborate,’ the gray in my thinking is, ‘you actually need this repertoire of adapting and forcing and collaborating,” Kahane said.

The second point is that “you need to rather dialogue than fight,” which describes the process used when discussing and talking out an obstacle and its problem over choosing to fight over it, which ties into the third point of both parties involved being able to identify both the problem and the solution of a circumstance.

Direction also plays a part in understanding collaboration and the methods behind progressing in a productive way, leading to Kahane’s fourth point of how it is necessary to know where you are wanting to go, such as an end goal or ultimate resolution.

“I think the difficult question is what to do when the other person has all the power but doesn’t want to collaborate,” Kahane said.

The final point made in what can hinder collaboration was feeling a need to change the world, meaning that not all collaborations need to be done on a large scale — they can be used in day-to-day situations also.

Even though Kahane is currently based in South Africa, his work has taken him all over the world and these conversations can also be applicable right here in the Queen City.

From assessing poverty, hunger or access of affordable housing to obtaining employment, furthering educational needs or improving life skills, collaboration is important in analyzing these items for all individuals in the Cincinnati area.