Tuesday 10 May 2016 4:53 am

How Benjamin Franklin and Martin McGuinness demonstrate why you should make love to your workplace enemies (not literally, of course)

In the world of work, we often have an enemy. It could be our boss who hates us and gives us more work than the laws of physics allow. It could be that colleague who blocks everything we do or even think of doing. It could be the finance director who slashes our budget out of spite, smiling and increasing everyone else’s at the same time.

Having an enemy can be a major problem. It can prevent us reaching our business goals. It can hold us back in our career. It can impact our happiness at work and can even hit our health.

Let me make a suggestion: make love to them.

Speaking metaphorically, of course. But we tend to instinctively revert to fight or flight – come out all guns blazing or hide in the toilet – and neither approach usually produces the best outcome. So maybe it would be wise to consider a different strategy.

Find the empathy card

For a start, you could learn from Abraham Lincoln, who said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” You don’t have to like your workplace enemy, but understand their perspective more and you will likely find a reason for their behaviour. Or you just may appreciate that they are experiencing difficulties of their own, so give them a bit more leeway. Any insight into how to work with them effectively will be useful.

They may actually be looking for the fight, so disarm them by not responding.

It may be worth finding something you have in common – even if it’s a common enemy.

And if you can bring yourself to do them a favour, they will probably feel indebted. Better still, according to the Ben Franklin Effect, get them to do you a favour. This psychological phenomenon, which Franklin described as an “old maxim” in his autobiography, states that a person who has done someone a favour is more likely to do something else for them than if they had received a favour from that person in the first place.

Get dreaming

It’s also important to visualise your relationship improving. Often we expect an interaction to be uncomfortable and it quickly becomes so. But imagine it going well, and it is much more likely to.

This might all sound like hippy, pie-in-the-sky thinking but it frequently works, even in extreme cases.

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness spent their lives fighting each other in mortal hatred until they found themselves sharing an office as first minister and deputy first minister of the Northern Ireland Executive.

The result? A great friendship and a very productive working relationship. They even became known as the Chuckle Brothers, such was their behaviour in press conferences. Oh, and there was that small by-product of peace in Northern Ireland, as well.

Stick with it

This is not to say that there is a magic wand that works in all cases – and I am not saying it is always easy.

But it is possible. When Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev first met, the meeting went as badly as you might imagine. Halfway through, Reagan, to his eternal credit, recognised this and said, “this isn’t going very well, is it? Can we start again?” He put out his hand and said, “Hi, my name is Ron. Can I call you Mikhail?”

The meeting paved the way to the Reykjavik Summit a year later which, despite ending without an agreement, led eventually to the signing of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the US and the Soviet Union.