I could never work with those people!


The Social Innovation community has a lot to learn about the challenges involved in collaborating. For this week’s SIX Series on social innovation and collaboration in post conflict societies, SIX invited Adam Kahane of Reos Partners to give his reflections on collaboration, from his new book entitled Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust (forthcoming in June 2017 from Berrett-Koehler). Below is an excerpt from Adam’s book; you can read the entire chapter by clicking here.

“I Could Never Work with Those People!” I had recently started to work on a project to deal with the complex and contentious issues of trade, migration, and security along the U.S.-Mexico border. The project team included leaders from across the whole system: politicians from different parties, police chiefs, business owners, trade unionists, religious leaders, journalists, activists. They had all chosen to participate because they were concerned about the border situation and hoped that together they could make it better. I thought the issues were important—not only for this border region but for others around the world—and was happy to be involved.

We had just had our first team workshop and it had been difficult. In the region and in the team, fear, mistrust, and defensiveness were high. The team had begun to talk gingerly about what was going on along the border and what they could do about it. There had been some occasions when they had felt confused and frustrated, some abrupt adjustments to the agenda, and some arguments within the local organizing team. A few of the organizers thought that I, as the leader of the external consultants, had not done a good enough job and they wrote a critical note that they circulated amongst themselves.

One of my friends showed the note to me. I felt offended and upset. These organizers were challenging my expertise and professionalism behind my back. I was frightened that the accomplishment and income I was expecting from the project were at risk. I thought that I needed to defend myself, and so I sent off first one, then a second, and then a third email explaining why in my expert view what I had done in the workshop had been correct. I knew that I had made some mistakes but was worried that if I admitted these now I would be opening myself up to greater danger. I was certain that overall I was right and they were wrong: that they were the villains and I was the victim.

As the week went on and I had conversations with various people involved in the project, my attitude hardened. I thought that the organizers who were blaming me for the problems we were having were unconscionably betraying our team effort and me. I fought back and blamed them. I became increasingly suspicious, mistrustful, assertive, and rigid. I also wanted to keep myself safe and so became increasingly cautious and canny. I decided that I didn’t agree with or like or trust these organizers and didn’t want to engage with them on this matter or to work with them anymore. What I really wanted was for them to quit and for the whole unpleasantness to disappear.

[You can find out more about the book here.]

About SIX Series on post-conflict societies

In the run to the Summer School in Colombia 2016, we developed a blog series on social innovation and peace building. How has conflicts shaped social innovation cultures across different places? What is the post-conflict legacy?

Introduction to SIX Series on post-conflict societies #1: To read Eddy Adam’s introduction to the series, click here.

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #2: For the first blog in the series, written by Eddy Adams and Gorka Espiau on the Basque peace process, click here.

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #3: For the second post, click here to read Al Etmanski’s piece on innovation and the indigenous population of Canada. 

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #4: For the third post, by Michelle Breslauer on positive peace approach links between Mexico and Colombia, click here.

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #5: Click here to read Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana’s blog on little actions that bring people together. 

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #6: To read an extract from Adam Kahane’s book entitled Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust, click here.

SIX Series on post-conflict societies #7: To read Michelle Herman’s blog on how small communities can address traumatic past events, click here.