The promise of Adam Kahane’s latest book Collaborating With the Enemy is a stretch for me. First, there’s my preference for collaborations that I’m in charge of and partnerships that report to me! Then there’s my tendency to slam my adversaries. Actually, the thought of working with them is more than a stretch. It’s a leap into the unknown to the point of being off balance.
I suspect I’m not alone. Adam knows I’m not.
After 25 years as a peacemaker working on many of the world’s toughest challenges (transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa; drug wars in Mexico, peacemaking in Columbia) he is fully aware that most of us, including himself, view collaboration as a cozy, harmonious way of ushering our worldview into existence. With the emphasis on “our.”
Which of course never happens when “un-like” people are together. As soon as you have more than one person in the room you have more than one worldview, he says. There is bound to be conflict particularly if the situation is complex and you’re with people you don’t like, trust or agree with. Which brings us to the other time-honoured ways to resolve such conflicts or differences: force, manipulation, adaptation, avoidance. Avoidance is a big one in my world. If you disagree with someone or some group you don’t have to engage, you can simply create your own newsletter, network or organization. However, if you care deeply about an issue and those options are no longer an option, Collaborating with the Enemy offers a clear alternative. To distinguish between collaborations that don’t work and those that might, Adam offers three types of “stretch collaboration:” Embracing Conflict and Connection; Experimenting and Stepping into the Game. For Adam, the last stretch means that you must accept you are part of the problem before you can be part of the solution.
Before you start stretching he advises that you dispense with the typical view of collaboration as a sly way to get your way. Then he defies conventional wisdom and demonstrates that it is possible to get things done even with people you don’t agree with. And, for that matter, will never agree with. This makes the price of admission pretty low. No need to sort out differences in advance. No worries about building trust or becoming friends. Ever. Whew. Actually, it’s a demanding price of admission.
Adam has another observation that might shatter your views about collaboration. Stretch collaborators attract criticism. Accusations of betrayal, incompetence, naiveté seem to come with the territory. Something peacemakers the world over are familiar with.
Collaborating with the enemy is not for the faint of heart. If you care about being liked, it may not be for you. Then again the change-makers I know are brave-hearted and practiced at challenging status quo beliefs. Even the ones in their mind.
Collaborating with the Enemy comes complete with a six-week program of exercises. With a little practice, you won’t lose your balance and you just might find yourself relaxing into collaborations that you are not in charge of.
Peace begins at home. Peace begins with me. (Ted Kuntz)
Musical selection this post is Any Other Way by the recently rediscovered, Jackie Shane. Check out her new album, a collection of R&B classics, many of them live from the famed Sapphire Tavern in Toronto.