This post by Dorie Clark first appeared at Forbes.
How do you turn an adversary into an ally? We may want to change other people, says Bob Burg, but we’re far more likely to succeed if we first reset our own attitude. Knowing how to transform difficult relationships didn’t come naturally to him, and doesn’t to most people. That’s why, in his new book Adversaries into Allies: Win People Over Without Manipulation or Coercion, Burg developed five principles to help others connect, even when there’s conflict.
First, says Burg, “If you can’t control your emotions, you’re not in a position to be part of solution. You’re part of the problem.” He admits that wasn’t always easy for him: “I used to have a real challenge with anger.” But he came to recognize that “no one can make you feel a certain way. They can’t make you angry or sad, but they can push buttons in which you then make yourself feel that way…Only when we’re aware of it are we in position to do something about it.”
Second, he says, you have to understand that “beliefs are subjective truths” and that “our belief systems, the lens through which we see the world, are not something we chose, but are handed to us from the time we were born. They’re a combination of our upbringing, popular culture, the news media, popular mores. We’re basically run by an operating system that we don’t even know we’re run by.” Of course, any two people’s belief systems are likely to differ, creating conflicts that can seem mystifying. (“I can’t believe you did that – I would never do that!”). It’s only by becoming aware of these differences, and the assumptions behind them, that we can engage meaningfully with others.
Third, Burg says you have to acknowledge the other person’s ego. For better or worse, it’s a huge factor in human relationships, and if you ignore it, you’re likely to be missing an important part of the dynamic.
Fourth, it’s essential to “set the proper frame.” To Burg, that means creating the right foundation for a positive encounter. A while ago, he recalls, “I almost ran into a guy in the parking lot with my car. It was totally my fault and he looked at me with a nasty look. Had I bought into his frame, a really uncomfortable situation could have occurred. Instead, I raised my hand in a wave of acknowledgement, mouthed the words, ‘Sorry!’ and he said, ‘No problem.’ I re-set his frame and turned an adversary into an ally.”
Fifth and finally is “communicating with tact and empathy.” In a challenging encounter, it’s easy for others to misinterpret your intentions. Even the slightest whiff of criticism can turn someone hostile. But learning to speak tactfully means you can give feedback honestly and truly engage. “We need to communicate in a way so that the person won’t be defensive and resistant, but will be open to and accepting of us,” he says. “When we communicate in this way, we help them feel genuinely good about themselves and us.”
Mastering these skills is necessary for career success, he says. “You can have so many of the other qualities that help toward success – great talent, very high character, being ambitious, kind, charitable, or hard working…they’re all great, but let’s face it. Unless you can influence others – that is, moving people to the desired and appropriate action – you can only accomplish so much.”
Meanwhile, he says, “When you utilize these principles, your life will be a lot more fun and a lot less stressful and more profitable, both personally and in business. You know you’ve got the ability to have people work with you and not against you…Expecting another person to be helpful, friendly, and benevolent changes you – and that changes them.”
How have you turned adversaries into allies? What strategies do you use?
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.