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

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.

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? rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.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:

The 171st graduating class of the Massachusetts Firefighting AcademyHow to Get a Promotion: the Inside Stuff
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us are, but are you doing all you can to make it happen? Start with a focus on you.
Soldiers of IX Engineering Command, U.S. Army Air Force, putting down a Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) Runway at an Advanced Landing Ground under construction somewhere in France following the Normandy Landings of World War IIManagement Debt: I
Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths — that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on management debt? How can we pay it down?
The breech plug of one of the nine 16-inch guns of the U.S.S. MissouriMore Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is useful for distinguishing which tasks deserve attention and in what order. It helps us by removing perceptual distortion about what matters most. But it can't help as much with some kinds of perceptual distortion.
An egg sandwichThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.
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.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Bad Godesberg meeting on 24 September 1938Coming October 20: On Ineffectual Leaders
When the leader of an important business unit is ineffectual, we need to make a change to protect the organization. Because termination can seem daunting, people often turn to one or more of a variety of other options. Those options have risks. Available here and by RSS on October 20.
Browsing books in a library. So many books, we must make choicesAnd on October 27: Five Guidelines for Choices
Each day we make dozens or hundreds of choices — maybe more. We make many of those choices outside our awareness. But we can make better choices if we can recognize choice patterns that often lead to trouble. Here are five guidelines for making choices. Available here and by RSS on October 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.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 500-1000 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. 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.