This is the third “writing out loud” excerpt from the working draft of Adam Kahane’s new book, “Collaborating with the Enemy: An Open Way to Work with People You Don’t Agree With or Like or Trust,” to be published by Berrett-Koehler in 2017. Adam is keen to engage with interested readers around this material as he develops it.
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Some of the most beautiful and uplifting experiences of my life have been in the midst of tough collaborations. Few events are as transcendent as enemies meeting and talking and discovering that they have some common ground and sense of connection or even oneness. These encounters can enable us to resolve our frustrating and frightening conflicts, and to get unstuck and move forward.
Twenty-five years ago I was delighted to find out that I could be helpful to such collaborations. I threw myself into doing this work in many complex contexts around the world. One thing I was certain of was that if we want to make progress on our toughest challenges then we must choose talking instead of fighting. I was wrong.
Choosing to talk
My formative experience with tough collaboration was in September 1991 at the Mont Fleur Conference Centre outside of Cape Town. South Africans were trying to find a way to end 43 years of apartheid racial discrimination (on top of 300 years of colonialism) and the ongoing violent confrontations between the white minority government and the black majority population that this produced.
In 1990, President F.W. de Klerk had released opposition leader Nelson Mandela from 27 years in prison, legalized Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) and the other black opposition parties, and begun formal political negotiations on a transition to democracy. These all-party negotiations were the first time that white and black political leaders had ever talked openly and officially, as equals, about the future of South Africa. Almost nobody, inside South Africa or internationally, had imagined that this conflict could be concluded peacefully, and now a grand effort to do this had begun.