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

Hostile Collaborations

by

Last updated: July 18, 2019

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.

Why the Allies WonFor 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? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:

George Washington Crossing the DelawareThe Advantages of Political Attack: II
In workplace politics, attackers are often surprisingly successful with even the flimsiest assertions. Often, they prevail, in part, because they can choose the time and venue for their attacks. They also have the advantage of preparation. How can targets respond effectively?
Jeffrey Skilling, in a mug shot taken in 2004 by the United States Marshals ServiceKinds of Organizational Authority: the Informal
Understanding Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority found in organizations. Here's Part II of a little catalog of authority, emphasizing informal authority.
Tree rings, "documentary" evidence of past environmental conditionsOn Reporting Workplace Malpractice
Reporting workplace malpractice can be the right thing to do. And it's often career-dangerous. Here are some risks to ponder before reporting what you know.
Jeffrey Skilling, in a mug shot taken in 2004 by the United States Marshals ServiceNarcissistic Behavior at Work: IX
An arrogant demeanor is widely viewed as a hallmark of the narcissist. But truly narcissistic arrogance is off the charts. It's something beyond the merely annoying arrogance of a sometimes-obnoxious individual. What is narcissistic arrogance and how can we cope with it?
Gold ingotsCareer Opportunity or Career Trap: II
When an opportunity seems too good to be true, it might be. Although we easily decline small opportunities, declining an enticing career opportunity can be enormously difficult. Here's Part II of a set of indicators that an opportunity might actually be a trap.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A model of a space station proposed in 1952 by Wernher von BraunComing January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
Three gulls excluding a fourthAnd on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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 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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.