Turning Challenging Colleagues into Allies - Part Two

In Part One we discussed how cultivating a spirit of liking or respect for a challenging colleague can pay dividends in increasing his or her willingness to cooperate.  We saw how a strategy that once served Ben Franklin well can warm relations with colleagues today.  Research reveals some further communication strategies that can help you turn difficult associates into allies.


At times, executives at odds try to catch each other doing something wrong, hoping to find usable leverage.  Often, a more effective strategy is to try to catch a contentious colleague doing something right and immediately commend him or her for it.  This will not only reinforce desirable behavior but allows you to label them as a helpful ally.  Why would you want to attach such a label to a person who may have withheld their cooperation in the past?  Eminent psychologist Elliot Aronson, PhD and his coauthor answer:


One of social psychology’s best documented phenomena is the self-fulfilling prophecy – the tendency for a definition of a situation to evoke behavior that makes the definition come true.  Dozens of experiments have shown that students who are randomly labeled “smarter” tend to act smarter…and women who are labeled “beautiful” behave as if they are beautiful.”


In one experiment outlined by persuasion expert Robert Cialdini, PhD and his coauthors, researchers interviewed a large number of registered voters and told half of them that their responses showed they were “above average citizens likely to vote and participate in political events.”  The others were told that they were average in this area.  Those labeled as good citizens proved 15% more likely to vote in the election held one week later.  In another study, New Haven residents who were told they were generous later contributed significantly more than others to a worthy cause.


A word of caution:  Using the labeling technique insincerely could easily backfire. Praising someone for a desirable trait he or she hasn’t displayed could be readily seen as an overt attempt to manipulate. 


But even the most unhelpful associate will usually assist someone.  Be alert for occasions when they do and commend them for their accommodating actions.  Let them know that this shows the kind of helpful person they are.  This was a favorite negotiating tactic of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.  As Dr. Cialdini put it:


Before international negotiations began, Sadat would assure his bargaining opponents that they and the citizens of their country were widely known for their cooperativeness and fairness...  According to master-negotiator Henry Kissinger (1982), Sadat was successful because he got others to act in his interests by giving them a reputation to uphold.


You can turn challenging colleagues into allies using a similar strategy:


  1. Warm up your own feelings by thinking about their good qualities.  
  2. Put Ben Franklin’s strategy to work by asking them for a favor and, when they grant it, letting them know how much they helped you. 
  3. Commend their helpful acts, giving them a good reputation to live up to. 

You will find that many people will respond favorably.  And you may just gain the comrade-in-arms you need.

One to one communication, if done well, can be one of the most effective marketing communication strategies. To learn more click here.

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