Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 23;   June 6, 2007: Hostile Collaborations

Hostile Collaborations

by

Sometimes collaboration with people we hold in low regard can be valuable. If we enter a hostile collaboration without first accepting both the hostility and the value, we might sabotage it outside our awareness, and that can render the effort worthless — or worse. What are the dynamics of hostile collaborations, and how can we do them well?

Winston Churchill was born on November 30, 1874. It's a good thing, too, because his 69th birthday fell during the Teheran Conference, on November 30, 1943. The conference was the first meeting of the Allied Powers' three leaders — Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt — and things did not go smoothly.

On the last evening of the conference, Churchill's birthday, the British delegation hosted a birthday party in Churchill's honor, and the event helped defuse tensions between the three men. If Churchill had been born a few days earlier or later, the outcome of the Conference — and World War II — might then have been very different.

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill on the portico of the Soviet Embassy at the Teheran Conference

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill on the portico of the Soviet Embassy at the Teheran Conference in 1943. Only Roosevelt is dressed in civilian clothes. When the three sat for photographs like this one, Roosevelt nearly always sat between Churchill and Stalin. This might or might not have been intended to reflect the importance of the US to the coalition, but it is certainly a metaphor for the relationship of the three men. Photo courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

In hostile collaborations, discomfort often arises from distrust, shame, or guilt. Distrust usually comes from preexisting information and experiences, some of which might be based on misinformation, disinformation, or misinterpretation.

Shame can come from the sense that the other collaborators are of disreputable character, and that associating with them is harmful. But our assessments of one another's characters are often erroneous, because they're vulnerable to the Fundamental Attribution Error.

Guilt sometimes results from misgivings about the goals of the collaboration. If the goals are inconsistent with our values, or if some of our collaborators might use the collaboration for purposes inconsistent with our values, guilt follows.

If our feelings of distrust, shame, or guilt are intense enough, we might undermine the collaboration, whether we know it or not. One approach to resolving this problem is to build trust, intentionally. Here are some tips for building trust.

Avoid history
Trying to resolve distrust by figuring out what caused it is a form of collaboration in itself, and since distrust already has a seat at the table, that collaboration isn't likely to succeed.
Focus on right here, right now
Create warm, If our feelings of distrust,
shame, or guilt are intense
enough, we might undermine
the collaboration, whether
we know it or not
friendly, positive experiences that provide energy for moving forward. Food sharing and socializing can be helpful. Still, if the atmosphere is toxic enough, the barbs will fly, though often cloaked in subtlety, irony, or humor, as they were at Teheran.
Create opportunities to practice joint problem solving
A short excursion is a nice way to inject some joint problem solving that's unrelated to the content of the collaboration. Deciding routes, choosing places to eat, and deciding when to split the party and where to rejoin are all opportunities to practice consensus building.

Sometimes building trust can be just too difficult. One of the parties might have been promoted over another, or one might have abused the power of position, or one might perceive such abuse when none occurred, and so on. You can't change the past. If you can't replace the people involved, try adjusting the goals. Success with something easier might be the key to healing. Go to top Top  Next issue: Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

For more on trust, see "The High Cost of Low Trust: I," Point Lookout for April 19, 2006.

Order from AmazonFor more details of the role of social interactions at the Teheran Conference, see Why the Allies Won, by Richard Overy (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1995) Order from Amazon.com

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHnxYyMWfGDWQArVEner@ChacdXvJjWdgIoqZgvphoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Two orcasWhen Leaders Fight
Organizations often pretend that feuds between leaders do not exist. But when the two most powerful people in your organization go head-to-head, everyone in the organization suffers. How can you survive a feud between people above you in the org chart?
The Gatun Locks of the Panama CanalThe Power of Situational Momentum
For many of us, the typical workday presents a series of opportunities to take action. We often approach these situations by choosing among the expected choices. But usually there are choices that exploit situational momentum, and they can be powerful choices indeed.
Witchweed (striga hermonthica) a parasitic plantHow Pet Projects Get Resources: Abuse
Pet projects thrive in many organizations — even those that are supposedly "lean and mean." Some nurturers of pet projects abuse their authority to secure resources for their pets. How does this happen?
Langston Hughes, poet and leader of the Harlem RenaissanceThat Was a Yes-or-No Question: II
When, in the presence of others, someone asks you "a simple yes or no" question, beware. Chances are that you're confronting a trap. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for dealing with the yes-or-no trap.
Lt. Gen. Donald Kutyna, Ret., when he was Commander of the U.S. Space CommandMore Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
Retrospectives — also known as lessons learned exercises or after-action reviews — sometimes miss important insights. Here are some additions to our growing catalog of obstacles to learning.

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A shark of unspecified speciesComing May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
Jump ball in a game of basketballAnd on May 9: Unethical Coordination
When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenJGudBPzgOUJKpiJFner@ChacjDAkqmkCKTYJTyBwoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.