Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies CloserNOTE from John: This is a guest post by Jordan Harbinger. Jordan is an expert in social dynamics and co-founder of The Art of Charm podcast and training programs, where they teach “ordinary guys to become extraordinary men.” After reading his guest post below, be sure you check out his awesome podcast The Art of Charm (including my episode on how to systemize your networking).

“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.” – Abraham Lincoln

This has always been one of my favorite quotes from a truly great man. And why? Because it gets at the heart of so much of what we teach at The Art of Charm. High-value men don’t seek to destroy their enemies; rather, they seek to use The Art of Charm to make their enemies into allies — and maybe even make their erstwhile enemies into better people while they’re at it.

Still, this is one of those skills that requires lots of work (not to mention patience) on your part in order to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Our perceived enemies are our enemies for a reason. Getting past those reasons might be extremely difficult or even impossible.

With that said, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to make allies out of enemies over at The Art of Charm. Here are more than a thing or two that you can start putting into practice on the job, in school or even at bars and clubs.

Step One: Don’t Escalate

I’d say that this is nine-tenths of what you need to learn. When you stop escalating, stop engaging in one-upsmanship, stop trying to get the last word in, stop trying to “show” your enemies, you’ve taken one massive and very important step toward making them your ally.

At the very least, you’re never going to make an ally when you’re escalating the war. So be the better man — the one who lets the other party think that he’s won.

Particularly for the prideful man, this can be very difficult. But believe me when I tell you that it’s absolutely necessary to get situated on the right path. On the same token…

Step Two: Pick Your Battles

Sometimes it’s just not worth it. Sometimes, it’s merely a question of the other person going out of their way to make a point. This is step two of being a bigger man; letting the other person think that they’ve gotten one over on you. Because, at the end of the day, does it really matter?

If it does, by all means respond — without escalation if possible. But if it does not, just let it go and let them have their (ultimately very small) victory.

Step Three: Be the Change

If you thought the first two steps were hard, you’re going to have a huge problem with this one. Here, you’re not just not engaging in behaviors that make the situation worse; you’re actively seeking to make it better.

The good news is that you’re not really making a lot of grand gestures here. It’s more about trying to understand what the other person is thinking and feeling and, to a certain extent, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

To use a trite and obvious, but nonetheless illustrative, example, think of a workplace rival who’s always trying to stick it to you.

Perhaps they’re threatened and insecure in their job position. Seeing things from their perspective gives you the opportunity to bridge that gap by helping to give them what they need.

Step Four: Give Them a Little Something

One of the most basic things we learned about rivalries, be they the guy at the bar who always has to one up you or the guy at work who always wants to prove he’s better than you, is that giving this person something is the surest way to throw them off their guard.

I don’t mean you need to bake them a cake. Rather, I mean take the information that you gleaned when you tried to see things from their perspective and try to address the underlying emotional need you suspect is causing them to behave in an aggressive, confrontational and adversarial manner toward you.

What are they really trying to get out of this behavior? What can you provide them that’s going to help them to get it?

Maybe you can’t help with their problem. In that case, there are a number of ways you can provide them with something to bridge that gap at little or no financial or emotional cost to you.

Save for cases of highly toxic people, most everyone we run into is going to have a problem continuing to be rude and adversarial with someone who has provided them with something of value.

Step Five: Humor Is Your Greatest Weapon

A friend of mine told me a story once that I think is great. He was working in a kitchen when the head chef came up to him and started screaming at him about excess water on the floor.

When the chef was done my friend cracked a smirk, looked him in the eye and said “Damn. My plan failed. I was hoping you’d slip and break your neck.”

At first, the chef was disarmed. He didn’t know what to say. In a second though, he laughed nervously in spite of himself.

Why? Because humor is a lot easier pill to swallow than naked and brutal truth. It’s easier to correct someone’s behavior when you do it “as a joke” than if you do it in a more straightforward manner.

Step Six: Lead the Interaction

Once you’ve gotten a handle on the situation — stopped making it worse, in effect — it’s time for you to start taking a leadership role in the relationship between the two of you. Avoid paternalism, but do model good behaviors and, where appropriate and worthwhile, call them out on their behavior in a way that emphasizes the behavior rather than the person.

You might even want to do it in situations that don’t necessarily involve you. Simply telling the person “You did X in this situation but I think Y would have gotten you what you wanted easier and more effectively” can go a long way toward modeling future behavior.

In situations where you want to make an ally out of a rival, you always have to “be the change.” Nothing with short-circuit this process more than hypocrisy.


Jordan Harbinger is a Wall Street lawyer turned Social Dynamics expert and coach. He is the co-founder of The Art of Charm, a dating and relationships coaching company. If you’re interested in The Art of Charm residential programs, apply for a strategy call with a coach. You can also interact with Jordan on Facebook or Twitter.

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  15. Thanks Jordan, that is super useful framework for defusing some potentially hostile relationships.

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