How Your Enemies Can Make You Better

December 3, 2012 11 Comments

Army Navy Football Program from 1942We all have enemies. For most of us, they’re a drain on our energy, focus, and time. But if you approach your enemies differently, they can make you much better and stronger than you already are. Allow me to illustrate.

I hate Navy. I’m sick of them winning the Army-Navy football game for the last (I’m not gonna say it) years. The next time we play them is this coming Saturday and I really hope the anger and pain of all our losses over the last several years lights the fire of the Army team’s belly and helps them come out with a victory. Oh and how sweet a victory would be!

I’m sure the team and the program as a whole has done a great deal of soul searching over the last few years. I’m sure they’ve learned a few things about how to productively channel that anger into healthy endeavors. Perhaps you can learn a few things as well from the process of dealing with an enemy, directing your anger, and coming out on top.

We all have enemies. Some of us have a lot of them. But when we spend our time and energy focused on attacking them and counterattacking their inevitable strikes back, I’d submit we’re the ones losing. In getting us to attack, our enemy has taken us away from productive pursuits. They’ve hung a dark cloud over our days. They’ve drained us of some energy that would be better served elsewhere. They’ve also made us appear hot-headed and little in the whole process. Even if we win the fight, we lose – on multiple fronts.

There’s a better way to approach this.

Step Outside the Conflict

We get sucked into the conflict with that coworker or boss. Attack brings counterattack. The spiral begins. But I’ll bet you nine times out of ten if you step away from the conflict for a few moments/hours/days you’ll see how small and petty the issue being fought over likely is. Without regaining this perspective, you’re doomed to get bloodied and bruised in a battle that’s not worth fighting. On top of that, you might miss an easy solution to the problem because you’re too busy throwing punches.

Be the Bigger Person

Your enemy is going to take shots at you no matter what. The defining moment comes not when the shot lands but in how you react to it. You either get just as childish or mean and attack back or you try to take the high road. You ignore the insult. You laugh off the verbal slight. You kill them with kindness. Those around you will take note of how each of the combatants are “showing up” and if you’re being nothing but professional, it’s hard for you to look bad.

Channel Your Energy Productively

Now that you’re not enmeshed in the deep battle and daily fray, you probably have some time on your hands as well as some additional energy. Direct that time and energy into productive pursuits. Get your work done early and take some time off. Launch that lower priority project you’ve been dying to dig into. Spend some time coaching and mentoring your team. Go work out or read a book. By investing that newly found energy in productive activities, you’re bettering yourself (and likely driving your enemy crazy that they’re not getting to you).

Extend the Olive Branch

The best way to be the bigger person is to seek to set differences aside and create a positive environment. If your enemy is all fired up about continuing the conflict, they’re not going to be the one to reach out and end hostilities. That leaves the task to you. Take them out to lunch. Buy them a beer (unless they’re an angry drunk in which case get them a cream soda). Tell them you’d like to work with them more productively and end the conflict. Ask what you can do to change the way you show up and LISTEN when they tell you what’s wrong. Make a note of any changes you’d like to make and try to begin making them the next day. Also feel free to ask for a few changes on their part as well – if you ask for too many changes, they’ll take it as an attack and it’s on like Donkey Kong again.

Hopefully we can all take this approach to managing conflict and dealing with enemies. Because in the end, we all want the same things – for everyone to be productive, happy, and to get along and FOR NAVY TO LOSE A FREAKIN’ FOOTBALL GAME TO ARMY!


Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

11 Responses to “How Your Enemies Can Make You Better”

  1. ros says:

    As long as this is a sincere gesture, this is effective…if it is just for window dressing, the “enemy” and your peers will see right through it and you will lose “character standing” in their eyes

  2. Stomphorst says:

    Very good and useful article, have encountered many times running into the spiral during my active professional life, i am retired now however in this life although, the wisdom from the article still valid and to be applied..
    Thank you.

  3. Julie Darmon says:

    I thought you would find this an interesting read.

  4. Richard says:

    This may work with lower level subordinates, co-workers on the same level but it doesn’t work very well with narcissist bosses. I actually bought lunch for my boss after we had a disagreement on an issue. Things got better for a little while I played along. He later tried to get me to buy in on an unethical activity which I held stedfast on and reported accordingly. One year later I received notice that my job was being eliminated. Some enemies that have the power strike back hard. Needless to say, I kept my job and the citizens fired him along with his boss.

  5. Mark Bellamy says:

    Article – well done. I’d just add don’t let yourself get sucked into these type situations by staff wanting you to fight the fight they couldn’t win. That’s a resource drain!

  6. Great article! However, I would say that it really depends on the boss you have. If you had had my former director, you would have thrown the towel and run away.

    • MC says:

      Nice article. If you generally like your job, and the co-worker or boss is behaving ethically, then you may need to force yourself to be nice in order to get your job done. Sometimes easier said than done, but you will most likely outlast that person. If the person is not behaving ethically, you still need to get your job done, but you may need a partner in HR.

      Go Navy! Beat Army! Sorry Mike….guess I’m an enemy here:) Should be a great game this year!

  7. Rich Hua says:

    Nice article. I have seen the benefits of these ideas in my life on several occasions. Things don’t always turn out the way we want, but this philosophy works more often than not. I love Abraham Lincoln’s poignant quote: “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”

  8. Michael says:

    This is all quite true, but not neccessarly the complete answer. The approach I take with difficult people is three fold. The one to select is very much dependant on the context and the personality.

    1. Avoid – you don’t have to enagage (very consistent with Mike’s comments )

    2. Engage – again, very much in keeping with Mike’s thoughts.

    3. Confront – here’s where I depart a little from Mike. While confrontation is to be used sparingly (and in private!), sometimes a bully will only meaningfully respond to his own tactics. On the relatively few occasions I’ve had to resort to this, it’s worked for me!

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