"He sent it immediately and I returned it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favor. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged."
As Franklin’s experience illustrates, the fact that a difficult colleague has done you a favor conflicts with any negative feelings about you he or she may have. Minds don’t rest until such conflicts are resolved. Controlled experiments have replicated Franklin’s experience and found that those who do a favor for another usually justify their actions by feeling that the recipient deserved their generosity. As Dr. Aronson and his coauthor observed, “In effect, after doing the favor, they ask themselves, “Why would I do something nice for a jerk? Therefore, he’s not as big a jerk as I thought he was – as a matter of fact, he’s a pretty nice guy who deserves a break.” People’s tendency to rationalize their behavior can work in your favor here, warming things up considerably.
Use Ben Franklin’s strategy to jumpstart a spirit of partnership
So, to get a difficult colleague to stop blocking your efforts and start cooperating with you, why not use a communication strategy endorsed by luminaries like Ben Franklin and Elliot Aronson? Start by asking him or her to accommodate you in some small way. Make it a request that would be hard to refuse. Then, once they’ve done what you asked, be sure to warmly thank them for helping you out. This is one of the marketing communication strategies used by airlines when they say, “We know that you have a lot of airlines to choose from, so we want to thank you for choosing us.” Like Franklin’s fellow legislator, we all tend to think that if we’ve chosen to do something, it must be a good idea. So, getting a truculent associate to assist you in some way will often warm him or her up to helping you in the future. It can at least get the ball rolling in the right direction.
What further creative steps can you take to forge beneficial partnerships with fellow executives and coworkers? You’ll find the answer in “Turning Challenging Colleagues into Allies - Part Two.” Stay tuned.