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How to Win Over Your Enemies

Enemies. Rivals. Adversaries. Foes. Sadly, in business, we all have them.  They say bad things about us behind our backs. They prevent us from succeeding in our work. Or they ignore us, in acts of passive aggression. Whichever M.O. they choose, they make our lives more difficult and decidedly less pleasant. However, you don't have to allow this to continue. We all have the ability to win over our enemies.

Here’s a bit of advice that will most likely surprise you:
Question: What's the quickest way to get one of these archenemies to like you?
Answer: Get them to do you a small favor.

Let me explain.

It sounds counter-intuitive but it can be easily explained by what social psychologists call “cognitive dissonance theory.” The theory maintains that we all try to maintain consistency in our attitudes and behaviors. When we do a person a favor (the behavior), we tend to like them more as a result (the attitude).

This phenomenon is also known as “The Ben Franklin Effect.” Franklin wrote in his autobiography, “Enemies who do you one favor will want to do more.” A political opponent in the Pennsylvania state legislature was annoying Franklin and he set out to win him over. Franklin asked his adversary if he could borrow a rare book from his library. According to Franklin, when they next met in the House, the adversary spoke to him for the first time “with great civility.” He added that they eventually became great friends.

The Problem
All employees need cooperation from their co-workers in order to succeed at their jobs. Without respect, they won't receive the cooperation they need to be effective. Senior management can promote the importance of teamwork until they are blue in the face, but employees must respect one another if they are to work together effectively.

What to Do
Here is the Ben Franklin method that individual employees and managers can use to get their enemies to like them.

1. Identify Your Enemy
Think of the individuals who are preventing you from succeeding at your work. It could be a co-worker, subordinate, boss, employee from another part of the company, or even a customer.

2. Ask for a Small Favor
The favor should require the adversary to expend some effort, although it shouldn't be a Herculean task.

3. Proceed as If You Are No Longer Enemies
If your future interactions with this person are to be positive, you must treat him or her as a colleague, not an adversary. Otherwise, your attitude may negate their newly gained feelings of good will toward you and, instead, perpetuate the ill will of the past.

Conclusion
Take a lesson from Ben Franklin and the cognitive dissonance theory. If your workplace enemies are making life difficult for you, ask them for a favor. Give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised, and like Mr. Franklin, you may even make a new friend.

You can learn additional strategies for dealing with difficult people in these AMA Seminars:
Responding to Conflict

Building Better Work Relationships: New Techniques for Results-Oriented Communication

Are you having problems with someone at work? Learn how to create better relationships with your coworkers with this AMA webinar.

About the Author(s)

Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. is an industrial/organizational psychologist and founder and president of Discovery Surveys, Inc. (http://www.discoverysurveys.com/) and the Center for Independent Consulting (www.centerforindependentconsulting.com). He is the author of 30 Reasons Employees Hate their Managers (AMACOM) and, most recently, An Insider's Guide to Building a Successful Consulting Practice (AMACOM, 2010).