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  • Writer's pictureKelvin Ng

Enemy-fying - How we create gaps between people?

Enemy-fying enlarges the gap between people. It is our major barrier of finding the space for co-creation.

Unfortunately, enemy-fying is common in our daily interactions with others.

Besides, enemy-fying happens in an instant and, without us noticing it, our minds would be in a totally different state once we fall into the trap of enemy-fying.

It changes our views of the situation, our intentions and our relationships with the other party.

So, what is enemy-fying?

People bring along a shovel wherever they go.

And, they are ready to make a trench between themselves and others as a defence mechanism.

In his book, Collaborating with the Enemy – How to work with people you don’t agree with or like or trust, Adam Kahane defines enemy-fying as “thinking and acting as if the people we are dealing with are our enemies, or people who are the cause of our problems and are hurting us”.

Let’s explore how enemy-fying operates with the following example.

Two corporate trainers (Let’s call them Randy and Charlie) were working on a leadership development program together.

It was late afternoon and the program would commence the next day. However, Randy was still running around the office as she still had a lot to do to get everything ready. Obviously, it would be a late night for Randy.

Charlie had finished her part and was ready to go home. Charlie had also put in many extra hours in the past 10 days and really wanted to get some rest before the project commence the next day, especially she was the one to facilitate the morning session the next day.

However, she was apologetic about not offering help to Randy as it was a team project.

She also appreciated Randy’s willingness to take on some complicated parts. She definitely did not want to see the project go awry. But she was hesitant to stay behind as she was really tired.

Nevertheless, Charlie walked up to Randy to check on her progress.

Randy was overwhelmed. She also felt bad about herself as she did not want to let others down.

She knew that she had taken on some complicated parts but she still made a mental note that she should manage her priority better next time.

She knew it was her responsibility to get everything ready but she would appreciate it very much if Charlie could help.

During the chat, Randy hinted that Charlie’s help was needed. Charlie felt torn.

Charlie wanted to turn down Randy’s request.

Charlie thought that it was not fair to her. She wanted to be a good team player but Randy should have raised such a request much earlier, not in this last minute.

She thought that Randy was unorganized and irresponsible. She did not need to deal with such mess if Randy could manage her work better.

And, she made a comment on Randy’s time management indirectly, “Perhaps, we need to learn how to manage our time better next time.”

When Randy heard the comment, she was triggered.

Randy thought that Charlie’s comment was not fair, and, in fact, Charlie was not fair during the whole project, especially in task allocation. She did not mind taking on a bigger share of the workload and those more complicated parts.

Randy told herself, “Project of this size will not be successful without good teamwork and good team members.” She thought Charlie should, at least, be more grateful about her contribution.

This kind of conversations happen in different arenas of life and may result in heated argument, guarded interaction, silent treatment, or forms of anger and resentment.

At the very moment when we start to enemy-fy the other person, our relationship with that person will only go downhill.

Charlie felt torn as there was a part of her wanted to help or thought that she should help.

However, she did not honour that part of herself and fell into the trap of enemy-fying the other person. She started to blame Randy for the problem (unorganized and irresponsible), and her focus becomes entirely on justifying her decision of not offering help.

Randy felt bad about herself as a part of her thought that she could manage the project better.

However, when she was triggered, she also fell into the trap of enemy-fying. She started to blame Charlie for the problem (not working as a team for such a big project), and her focus becomes entirely on justifying her last minute rush.

Adam Kahane says that “The problem with enemy-fying is not that we never have enemies: we often face people and situations that present us with difficulties and dangers. Moreover, any effort we make to effect change in the world will create discomfort, resistance, and opposition. The real problem with enemy-fying is that it distracts and unbalances us.”

Enemy-fying unbalances us.

Both Charlie and Randy had a less balanced view of the situation than they did before they had started enemy-fying each other. They only saw the bad of the other person.

Enemy-fying distracts us.

Our focus shifts from the original goal of achieving whatever result we want to achieve in that particular moment to the new goal of justifying we are right or the other person is to be blame for the problem. In fact, the other person becomes the problem.

Improving the way they manage their current and future projects together is no longer the goal of Randy and Charlie. Their minds become pre-occupy with Randy being unorganized or Charlie’s not being a good team player, or they become overly-sensitive to any proof on those claim.

In fact, they make intentional search on past incidents or examples to prove their points of view.

Therefore, they would bring along this enemy image of the other person to the future interactions they have with each other. Co-creation becomes hopeless.

In almost all of the situations where I was asked to facilitate some team-building interventions in the past 20+ years, the main reason for ineffective teamwork is not that people don’t know how to work with others, not that people don’t know the benefit or necessity of teamwork.

It is always because of these enemy-images of the others that people have developed and carried along with their interactions with one another.

Those enemy-images blinded us.

Co-creation is not about building harmonious relationships. It is about having the intention to bring the best out of the current situation and a more balanced view of the situation to do so.

Understanding how we enemy-fy others is the first step.


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