This is the sixth “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. If you have not yet subscribed and would like to continue receiving updates and participate in a conversation about them, please sign up here.
This Collaborating with the Enemy is archived. While we still think it contains valuable content it's not up to the standard of our new website, so it's available here until we update it.
David Cooper says
I cant recall the professor in one of my Social Work classes that made the statement: “can you see me seeing you”. She followed with “can you see me seeing you changing me”. The comments reminded me of what Desmond Tutu had taught me in a class at Emory University in 1999: Ubuntu. My humanness is interrelated (formed) by your humanness.
Vinay Gunther says
This is an excellent and profound chapter – reallly, at the heart of systemic understanding, therapeutic notions of existential responsibility, spiritual approaches to self transformation. I think you tackle the topic clearly, illustrate with good examples, and pepper it with many fine quotes. This could be the basis for a text book on personal-social responsibility. There is the getting of it – a change in ones attitude, probably paralleling Sartre’s notion of good faith; then then there is the doing of it – the actually following through the consequences of what that shift means. All this is enormously difficult, and takes the right kind of challenge and support. Thats at the heart of the therapeutic enterprise, and most evident when working with just about any couple, who represent everything you describe, on a dyad level.
Yes, this is at the basis of that document I sent you on dealing with intractable conflicts. Once again, like the rest of your book, I think there would be a benefit from operationalising this a bit, the side bars or end of chapter set of exercises..
Adam Kahane says
Thank you Vinay. I am studying the document you sent me. Adam
Mark Burdon says
Following your last sentence Adam, I’m minded of Joseph Campbell saying ‘where you stumble, there your treasure lies’ and as such experience your pioneering action in collaborative writing as being courageous. Like consciously committing to diving into the flow of a river but not being able to be conscious about what one will discover. Opening self to ‘other’, be they categorised as ‘enemy’ or merely ‘different’, may involve a similar process as diving in. One of the more chilling statements I have heard is Franco saying (something like as this is from memory) ‘we will eradicate everyone who thinks differently to us’. Apart from similarities and difference we are all unique but, paradoxically, our very uniqueness, our ‘gifts’ only come into being…are actually defined.. in the relationship with an-‘other’ who is different. I find this strange hopeful as it weds us, as individuals, to difference. A wonderful artist and friend said to me, “I don’t really know what a painting is until it is out on the canvas…and then (tentatively) I only really start to know as I listen to other people respond to it”.
Your writing is so rich in this form as you put your self into the world and there is something about doing this in an unpolished form that is really being and doing the ‘work’. In conventional usage ‘unpolished’ might be misconstrued and taken as a thinly veiled insult. Here I mean it to be at your very edge, discovering and inviting discovery together. This seems to invite an association into experience. I think part of the courage of doing this is in realising that in diving in, you have no control of what you will reveal of yourself, and depend on others in responding. An act of loving leadership.
The nourishing spaces where uniqueness can be called into being by difference, and co-alesce to create something together, seem to be very precious.
milton dawes says
You wrote : This chapter is the most personal one and the one I have found most difficult to write. What does it really take, instead of trying to change others, to change oneself?
In my readings from Chapter 1 to 5, it seems to me that ‘the book’ is as much about tough collaborating as it is about “ongoing self-discoveries”, and “being aware” of the powerful effects on the collaborating efforts and process — what one (parties, and facilitators) bring to the situation (expectations., prejudices, biases, maintaining self image, etc.). Titles along the lines of “Tough Collaborating: A Way to Understand Self and Others:” Or “Coming to Understand Self and Others Through Tough Collaborating”, and so on, could reflect this.
Misunderstanding #1: You need to collaborate
Misunderstanding #2: You need to dialogue rather than to fight
Misunderstanding #3: You need to agree on the problem and on the solution
Misunderstanding #4: You need to know where you are going
Misunderstanding #5: You need to change those people
The “You” in the title of chapters is not clear to me. I evaluate it as Adam addressing the participants #1, #2, # 3; Adam addressing both participants and facilitators, #4; and participants addressing Adam, #5
Again I feel an impulse to excuse myself from the usual editorial role and return to principles.
Re. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”—U.S. cartoonist Walt Kelly”. I first came across these words in “Winnie The Pooh”. But I don’t remember if the cartoonist was also the author of the book. In terms of the enemy being ourselves: I came up with the following principle some months ago: “Mind minds mind: Mind mines mind: Mind undermines mind.” As a “self protecting measure”, a mind takes care of itself (a source of its resistance to change). It also searches its memory stores for experiential treasures…but as a multidimensional structure it sometimes is also in conflict with itself, and like our own racial efforts to improve, sabotages its own efforts. In our efforts to help others, the more we understand the workings of our own mind (its biases, tendencies, prejudices, expectations, unexamined inferences, prejudgments, etc., and most importantly “words”), the better we are able to anticipate the attitudes, tendencies and behaviors of other minds. And in becoming aware of how difficult we find changing aspects of ourselves (our own mindings), the better we will understand the resistance and recalcitrance of other minds.
You wrote: In our collaborative immigration project was difficult. The issue was complex, contentious, and dangerous, with no quick or easy answers. The team had radically different perspectives and interests. We were all making big investments in the work and were all taking risks—many of us to our reputations, some to our livelihoods, a few to our safety. So in doing this work we faced real challenges. But on top of these real challenges, I also manufactured imaginary ones. I spent much of my energy not on what the team were actually doing, but on my emotional reactions—anxieties, fantasies, projections—to what they were doing and what I wished they were doing.”
“I relate this to the psychoanalytic notion of “countertransference.” Psychotherapists recognize (or ought to in my opinion) the “importance of being aware that what they bring to their work with individuals have significant effects on their progress”. In working to help others it helps when we recognize what and how we bring what we bring to the situations.
As you quoted Martin Buber: “The essential thing is to begin with oneself…” .
You wrote: “As the eighth-week deadline to deliver the initiatives approached and the pressure and stress increased…”
I consider it so unfortunate that governments, institutions, organizations, etc. (from my point of viewing) so often act as if “meeting the deadline” was more important than seeking to understand and working to resolve problems…or that very complex human problems can be resolved (as constructing, say a bridge) in the given time ‘budgeted’ for.
You wrote: “What we see in the world and in others is largely constructed by our own thinking. In particular, what we see in the people we consider to be our enemies is largely a projection of the shadow parts of ourselves. We become able to see clearly what is going on and what we need to do only as we reel in our projections and recognize and integrate our shadows.”
A great thinker (I forgot which one) recognized this centuries ago. If I recall the Latin words correctly “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.”…Whatever is received is received in the mode of the receiver”. Again this takes us back to the importance of being aware of how we are approaching a situation (countertransference and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle): What we bring to a situation plays a big part in contributing to the results we get.
You wrote: “My enemies therefore have been among my greatest teachers.”
I don’t think you actually consider anyone your enemy: So again I would like to emphasize the importance of our recognizing the power of words in influencing relationships with ourselves and with others. Individuals endeavoring to resolve problems make changing their attitudes difficult if they start out thinking of others as “ememies”. The ways we use words influence our thinking and the meanings we give; our thinking and the meanings we give influence our attitudes and behaviors.
You wrote: “Unless we can grasp how what we are doing is contributing to our situation being as it is, then we will have no way to change that situation—except from the outside, by force. Collaborating requires that we see ourselves as part of—and not above or apart from—the situation we are trying to address.”
The words we use in talking about a situation and others are important aspects of our contribution in-to situations. Paying attention to the ways we use words can be tremendously helpful towards arriving at higher levels of collaboration with others …and most importantly “collaborating with ourselves” in being awake to what we do and how we do what we do…so we can do better at helping others who are working at ‘doing’ better relationships…Yes: We are “constantly doing relationships” whether we are conscious of this or not.
Charles M Lines says
‘Focusing on others is a lazy way to avoid doing our own work.’ This is a crucial point. When I was being trained as a team builder years and years ago this point was clearly made and reinforced. It is a common thing for people to focus on others who are ‘the problem’ rather than asking themselves what they can do individually and together to improve or deal with a situation. Shifting the focus back onto ourselves rather than onto others is a difficult and uncomfortable thing for many of us to do: it takes a bit of bravery and a lot of practice.
Our work does not stop there, however, as working collaboratively with others to address difficult issues and diverse interests requires we develop the skill (or quality) of being ‘assertively selfless’. Interestingly, this skill/quality seems to be evolving within society in response to the ever-increasing complexity and interconnected of our world and its associated challenges.
I also agree that ‘binary thinking’ is often an enemy of collaboration. Most of us habitually think in a good/bad, right/wrong way. We need to practice and develop the skill of triple thinking, noticing not only what is good and bad but also what is interesting and intriguing, which may then help us appreciate differing perspectives and gradually heave the focus of our attention if not totally back to ourselves then at least towards a healthier and innovative in-between space were new insights can be gained and new things can happen.
Connected with the idea of triple thinking (and something that can help us develop it) is the concept of becoming ‘umbrella or t-shaped’ in terms of our expertise and experience: having not only a central core of expertise but also a broader knowledge of other areas that can help us reach out and collaborative with others. I explore being assertively selfless, triple thinking and ‘umbrella t-shapedness’ here, with one or two examples:
Thanks again for sharing your ongoing work!
marco valente says
I very much like the turn that the book is taking over time, towards even more pronounced this inner exploration of working with the self. Naturally, this starting from oneself alone would be enough material for an entire book on its own. you discern two threads in this chapter, that seem a bit separate to me, at least on the surface. One is the “us vs them” and “black and white” thinking, of categorizing the enemy as such to externalize blame, and the other (though very much connected of course) is the idea of starting to work from oneself within the area of immediate control of ones very thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Perhaps the second one is worth some practical advice (a little how to, and where to start, as some pointed above) and even some anecdotes on the bright side of when such inner work reaped significant benefits.
Adam Kahane says
Thank you Marco–very helpful.
Sibout Nooteboom says
After first being perplexed by this chapter – in a good way, i started thinking: sometimes, it may even be rational – realistically and from a deeper value perspective – to give up part of your own identity. How I stand amidtst, somewhere between these contrasting and seemingly incompatible values, determines if I can help values to collide, ignite and co-evolve toward something that will – after years perhaps – be appreciated by most. This is what I am starting to realise in my current work in Mali, about which, perhaps 10 years from now, I may be able to write more. I am so lucky I just might leave that situation as I please, and leave it to the Malinese. (Until it comes to Europe…)
Michael Chender says
I found this last chapter very difficult to wend through. Its seems like in moving from the outer to the inner, the story has lost its clarity. Thats understandable, as tales of the inner world are not linear. But I feel that there are various lines of thought that don’t (for me) form a coherent whole. I’m perfectly willing to hear that this is because I’ve missed the thread, but here are some thoughts:
This is your story–and it reads to me like the discovery process of someone who started with a very mechanistic view of things. I say this because your conclusions–that people aren’t black and white, and that we need to pay attention to whats going on with us–would seem self-evident to the right-brained crowd that I hang out with, who will be part of your readership. I think contextualizing this more in terms of your developmental storyline, which seems to be going from Power to Love, while recognizing that others need to move in the other direction, would improve it
I’d be interested, and I think it would be useful to others, to know more about your journey of stretching and opening, even if its in the form of questions you are currently grappling with. When you talk about projection and the need to reintegrate that–how? And working on yourself–how do you that? The implication I get is of an analytical process of learning from experience, but many of us don’t have that strong an analytic capacity–we are overwhelmed by our ignored selves and don’t learn very well without help. (One method I believe you have employed to effect–and I believe would be valuable advice to many of your heroically inclined readers–is to have friends, and to listen carefully to what they reflect to you!)
In the India story the detail leads me to think its as much about the need to engage champions and decision makers as the “Revenge of the ignored self”. What do you imagine would have changed in the India scenario if you had not been ignoring yourself?
And the need for a “crisis” in SA–I couldn’t figure out where that fit in the larger architecture of the chapter.
There’s a word missing in the second to last line of the Buber quote
I really liked the last few ending paragraphs.
Dr S Kulshrestha says
Undoubtedly this is the best chapter of the book!
As I was reading through I could see things falling in place, where they had tormented me no end!
It was a learning, though so late in my life, which may light up the remaining years.
Thank you so much for sharing.
David Portillo says
The paragraph beginning “Leadership scholar Bill Tolbert” is perfect. It brought me the epiphany, and then continued with an even “stickier” conception I cannot forget because it is so every day: “I am the traffic.”
Karen Verburgh says
Really like this chapter. Think that what you write about is essential in any work that we do trying to transform (part of) a system. To see and witness ourselves as part of the system, and that we are most effective when we keep our part of the hologram clear.
On a practical note: I would prefer the India example to be either longer or shorter. As it is currently it is not sufficient information to really understand what happened and therefore to really empathise with how you felt, but i found it a bit too much information if you just want to relay the information that you learnt that you better look inward.
In your email you informed us about the new names for the chapters. I have an issue with this one: Misunderstanding #2: You need to dialogue rather than to fight.
For me the word dialogue as I use it and work with it, it includes “fighting” as you mean it. There are so many misunderstandings regarding the word dialogue already, and I think that if you use it for a chapters’ name as you plan it, it might contribute to that confusion.
I put the word fighting between inverted commas because to me fighting is a strong word that can invoke strong and usually negative reactions, whereas the way i understood you mean fighting it is ultimately about clearly and overtly disagreeing and speaking from your own perspective, which to me is a positive thing. And i wish for a positive or at least more neutral word.
Since it is easy to say what does not work, here is a suggestion to lose, or use 😉 : Misunderstanding #2: You need to be careful when sharing from your perspective and always aim for agreement.
Many thanks for putting yourself and your work out (t)here.
Eileen Moir says
A beautiful concluding chapter Adam. Weaving together the fundamentals for collaboration that emerged through your previous chapters.
‘To begin with oneself…’ is a maxim that can trip glibly off the tongue, but you take us below the surface. With honesty, humility and pragmatism you show why we must change ourselves before we can reach out and connect with others who don’t share our view in a collaborative context.
“Collaborating with others, especially others who do not agree with or like or trust us, requires us to join with them as equals”. This image of standing shoulder to shoulder is compelling. I wondered though how ‘joining them as equals’ might be at odds with the disquieting image of ‘fight’ of previous chapters. Thinking deeper, I acknowledge that to stand together as equals, we have to be able to advocate for our own position (fight) as well as listen and respect the other. Without advocacy there’s unlikely to be much of ‘my position’ in the collaborative outcome, causing resentment and an uneasy alliance at best. So I accept there needs to be both. Perhaps then the critical factor is the intention that guides the decision to fight.
My only lingering concern as you reach the end of the book, is that the word fight may encourage more of a focus on what the other is doing thus swinging the beam away from ourselves. Admittedly some people will be more prone to projection and scapegoating than others, depending upon their locus of control (internal or external), but I offer it anyway.
Reaching out (again and again if necessary) and thus avoiding the paralysing effects of an impasse takes courage and humility but is fundamental to forward-movement. Making and maintaining the connection through words and gestures is the alchemy of transformation. You guide us elegantly through the steps of the dance.
Thank you for the opportunity to engage with you in this way Adam. The process has pushed me to think deeply and differently about collaboration; an essential activity in life and work. I wish you well in the next stage of the book.
Teresa Woodland says
Thank you for sharing these. I have them in my “to do” folder and this is the first one I have read and commented on. What a wonderful place to start.
This touched me.
I love how you move between what is happening, what you are experiencing, and how you are working with yourself as you notice what you are experiencing. In so many ways in this work, we have to work on multiple levels. We have to recognize when we are holding tightly to a bionary view and when we are open to multiple perspectives, including those we can’t imagine.
It also makes me think about some of the things that Parker Palmer writes about in the Courage to Teach
I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly
hold the joy. When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the
pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illuminated by the
lightening-life of the mind – then teaching is the finest work I know.
But at other moments, the classroom is so lifeless or painful or confused – and I
am so powerless to do anything about it – that my claim to be a teacher seems a
transparent sham. Then the enemy is everywhere: in those students from some alien
planet, in that subject I thought I knew, and in the personal pathology that keeps me
earning my living this way. What a fool I was to imagine that I had mastered this occult
art – harder to divine than tea leaves and impossible for mortals to do even passably well!
If you are a teacher who never has bad days, or who has them but does not care,
this book is not for you. This book is for teachers who have good and bad days, and
whose bad days bring the suffering that comes only from something one loves. It is for
teachers who refuse to harden their hearts because they love learners, learning, and the
When you love your work that much – and many teachers do – the only way to
get out of trouble is to go deeper in. We must enter, not evade, the tangles of teaching so
we can understand them better and negotiate them with more grace, not only to guard our
own sprits but to serve our students well.
Those tangles have three important sources. The first two are commonplace, but
the third, and most fundamental, is rarely given its due. First, the subjects we teach are as
large and complex as life, so our knowledge of them is always flawed and partial. No
matter how we devote ourselves to reading and research, teaching requires a command of
content that always eludes our grasp. Second, the students we teach are larger than life
and even more complex. To see them clearly and see them whole, and respond to them
wisely in the moment, requires a fusion of Freud and Solomon that few of us achieve.
If students and subjects account for all the complexities of teaching, our standard
ways of coping would do – keep up with our fields as best we can and learn enough
techniques to stay ahead of the student psyche. But there is another reason for these
complexities: we teach who we are.
Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for
better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my
subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom
are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle,
teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If am willing to look in that mirror and not run from
what I see I have a chance to gain self-knowledge –and knowing myself is as crucial to
good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.
* Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach, pp 1-2,Jossey-Bass Inc., 1998.
It also reminds me of some of the things that Madeleine L’Engle muses about in The Crosswich Chronicles (a series of journals)