Collaborating with the Enemy | Adam Kahane

Summary of: Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust
By: Adam Kahane


In an increasingly interconnected world, collaboration is essential to achieve mutual goals. ‘Collaborating with the Enemy’ by Adam Kahane delves into the art and necessity of working with people you may not agree with, like, or trust. This summary covers the varying approaches to collaboration, such as forcing, adapting, and exiting, along with different conversation modes that can either inhibit or enhance collaboration. The book introduces the concept of stretch collaboration, a technique that enables individuals and groups to work effectively even with their opponents, enabling a more open approach to communication and mutual understanding.

The Power of Collaboration

The ability to collaborate is crucial not only at home and work but also in different industries. Collaborating with people that you may not like or may even hate is necessary to meet common objectives. Sometimes, even enemies need to collaborate to achieve mutual goals. In these situations, it is important to understand when to collaborate. Disparate groups often face the challenge of having to resolve apparent nonnegotiable differences, despite distrust among members. In such cases, successful collaboration may seem impossible. Nevertheless, history has shown that political enemies can reconcile their differences and unite to achieve a greater good for their nation. Collaboration may not work in every situation, and if it doesn’t, people might be forced to select a default position among three alternatives: “forcing,” “adapting,” or “exiting.” Collaborating with others may not be easy, but it is always worth the effort. It allows individuals and groups to leverage one another’s strengths, enhance innovation, and find solutions to their most challenging problems.

Four Modes of Collaborative Communication

Effective collaboration requires an imaginative approach to communication that prioritizes presencing and dialoguing over downloading and debating.

Collaboration depends on effective communication, which requires finding an imaginative way to have a conversation and to listen to other people, even if your relationship with them is tense. The conventional approach to collaboration only works for simple, controlled situations. In more complex, nuanced situations, we need to stretch our communication skills beyond our comfort zone. People typically communicate in one of four modes: presencing, dialoguing, downloading, and debating.

Presencing involves searching for the most promising outcome or future in a conversation. This approach breaks down barriers between groups and emphasizes being fully present. Dialoguing, on the other hand, requires empathy and listening with an open mind. It’s important to acknowledge where others are coming from while sharing your own experiences.

Downloading reflects an assertive style in which the speaker’s ideas are the only true or safe ones to share. This approach ignores other people’s ideas and is unproductive in the context of collaboration. Debating focuses on clashes of ideas but doesn’t foster collaboration, as it often involves a belief that “I am right, and you are wrong.”

To collaborate effectively, we must rely on presencing and dialoguing rather than downloading and debating. By prioritizing open-mindedness and empathy, we can break down communication barriers and achieve better outcomes.

The Power of Stretch Collaboration.

Effective collaboration is not just about working with like-minded colleagues, but also engaging with rivals to achieve shared goals, using trial and error to create a mutually acceptable reality. The Stretch Collaboration system enables people to move ahead, even without control over the outcome. Its three dynamics that successful collaborators employ:
Dealing with collaborators – They understand that harmony isn’t the point, but achieving successful dealings, even with rivals.
Forwarding the agenda – Effective collaborators are willing to experiment and consider different perspectives to attain acceptable goals.
Functioning within the given circumstances – They don’t expect to change their counterparts but strive to change themselves for the better. To attain important things in complex situations, don’t spend time watching, blaming, and cajoling others; rather, stretch to experiment with multiple possibilities and perspectives to discover, one step at a time, what will work. It may seem unnatural at first, but with practice, it can make you more adept in collaborating.

Stretch Collaboration

Collaboration involves focusing on diverse holons, incorporating multiple possibilities, and listening for fresh perspectives. The concept of stretch collaboration necessitates working with not only like-minded individuals but also potential adversaries. By actively listening and remaining open-minded, stretch collaborators allow for innovative ideas to surface which may otherwise remain neglected. Through the three different “stretches” of stretch collaboration, professionals and businesses can achieve greater success.

Power and Love

People are driven by power and love. Collaboration requires alternating between these drives, sacrificing the smaller self for the larger one, and knowing when to engage and when to assert. Nelson Mandela exemplified this by asserting himself in open conflict with the South African government, going to prison for his rebellion, and then collaborating with de Klerk for the good of the country. Successful collaboration requires balancing power and love.

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