Learning from the Enemy

Organizations can learn from other organizations in situations of conflict. At least that is what my friend Pat MacDonald said on Wednesday during her PhD thesis defense.

Learning from the “enemy” is a difficult task. When a situation is laden with conflict and there are clear, hardened positions, changing beliefs becomes difficult. We have to overcome our natural defensiveness, find common ground, and be open to new experiences.  We have to be ready to change our perspective.  Or maybe not.  Pat’s research suggests that rather than change our beliefs, that merely changing our behaviour, without changing our beliefs can result in learning.

If we see positive results from our change in behaviour, over time, we can begin to change our beliefs. This is great news.  It is much easier to change behaviours and practices than it is to change beliefs.

Much of this starts with respect for your “enemy”, finding common ground or beliefs is often what it takes to begin to learn from them. Reframing your identity from company A and organization B to a common identity can begin the process of finding common ground.  For example, here at the college, instead of faculty and administration, we’re all educators who care about our students. In Pat’s case study the shared ground was science.

But to start the process, we need to be open to the idea that we have something to learn from our “enemy” when in conflict. I look at it this way. Usually the people in opposition are well-educated, intelligent and have life experience. Why wouldn’t they have something to teach me? Seeing this when in the heat of conflict, however, is easier said than done.

Can you learn from conflict? Ask yourself the next time you’re tempted to say “those idiots, they don’t know what they are talking about”.


1 reply »

  1. A friend recently described her ex as a ‘gift’. She’s been learning patience and understanding … learning to put the common good (her kids’ concern) above her own desires or ‘perfect world’. That attitude is producing peace … but I know it’s not easy for her.

    I’ve often heard that if you ‘act’ lovingly towards others, loving feelings will follow. Even if there aren’t any loving feelings when the act is given.

    Yes, our enemies do give us gifts. We can learn from them.

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