Having a disagreement? 3 ways to work it out!

Older businessman with young staff

If you are stumped on your next project, try working with your adversaries.

That is a thought I am borrowing from a David Brooks column on the ideas of Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist emeritus at Princeton and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Kahneman, a 2002 Nobel Laureate in Economics, offers an insight that many of those who seek to lead their colleagues' need to heed. So often when pushing for change, especially when you do not have such authority, it is important to listen to the forces of no. But with Kahneman's dictum in our heads why not push for more? Why not seek to work together?

So often studies of leadership focus on what management guru Jim Collins describes as "executive leadership," that is one that conforms to the rules of hierarchy. Peer leadership is essential for a variety of reasons but chief among them is that the global economic currents operate 24/7 and companies need nimble thinkers and doers who can respond with agility and street smarts. You need people who can respond quickly but also have the leadership capacity to bring colleagues together for common cause.

And that is where adversarial collaboration plays a role. Stick in the muds cannot play this game but those who are able to see over and through differences for the greater good of the organization can. Such collaboration is rooted on doing what's good for the organization, not simply for oneself.

For example, say you are a product development executive and your company is facing stiff competition from another firm. The response may be to call for a revamping of your product line. That may be necessary but in the interim how do you work with your colleagues in marketing and sales to reach out to customers and ensure that you hold them until the new product arrives. Failure to cooperate inside the company plays right into the hands of your competition.

If you pursue this course, there are three things to do.

Sublimate the ego
This is the easiest to articulate but perhaps the hardest to practice. Why? Leaders are partial to their own ideas and ways of doing things. To collaborate you must call on others on multiple levels for ideas and participation. A strong ego provides direction, but a domineering persona turns others away.

Look for synergy
Yes, synergy may be an overused term from the merger and acquisition world. But it applies internally. Synergy comes from putting ideas together so that resulting idea draws from multiple threads of thought as well as multiple people. That opens the door to real collaboration.

Radiate enthusiasm
Collaboration requires energy. And that can be difficult when people are sparing but it falls to a leader to generate excitement about what is happening and share that enthusiasm. Shared ownership of the concept opens the door for others share in and generate their own enthusiasm.

It is one thing to lead people who will listen to you, but it is another to lead those who are against you. Inside your organization you may call them rivals, maybe one or more of you are aiming for the same job. Collaboration can be difficult. But if you pull it off, you will look like a hero, and certainly worthy of consideration for leading others with requisite authority.

Brooks also quotes a maxim from Kahneman's late research partner, Amos Tversky who said, "Let us take what the terrain gives us." In other words, work with what you have, not what you do not have. Pining for more resources or more support that is beyond your reach will send you down blind rabbit holes. Not only will you waste time you will burn your credibility. And as a person seeking to lead from the middle, credibility is your coin of the realm.