Collaborating with the Enemy

How to Work with People You Don t Agree with or Like or Trust

Adam Kahane (Author)

Publication date: 06/05/2017

Collaborating with the Enemy
Collaboration is increasingly difficult and increasingly necessary

Often, to get something done that really matters to us, we need to work with people we don't agree with or like or trust. Adam Kahane has faced this challenge many times, working on big issues like democracy and jobs and climate change and on everyday issues in organizations and families. He has learned that our conventional understanding of collaboration—that it requires a harmonious team that agrees on where it's going, how it's going to get there, and who needs to do what—is wrong. Instead, we need a new approach to collaboration that embraces discord, experimentation, and genuine cocreation—which is exactly what Kahane provides in this groundbreaking and timely book.

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Collaboration is increasingly difficult and increasingly necessary

Often, to get something done that really matters to us, we need to work with people we don't agree with or like or trust. Adam Kahane has faced this challenge many times, working on big issues like democracy and jobs and climate change and on everyday issues in organizations and families. He has learned that our conventional understanding of collaboration—that it requires a harmonious team that agrees on where it's going, how it's going to get there, and who needs to do what—is wrong. Instead, we need a new approach to collaboration that embraces discord, experimentation, and genuine cocreation—which is exactly what Kahane provides in this groundbreaking and timely book.

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Meet the Author

Visit Author Page - Adam Kahane

Adam Kahane is a Director of Reos Partners. Reos ( is a company of strategists and facilitators that helps people move forward together on their most important and intractable issues.

Adam is a leading organizer, designer and facilitator of processes through which business, government, and civil society leaders can work together to address such challenges. He has worked in more than fifty countries, in every part of the world, with executives and politicians, generals and guerrillas, civil servants and trade unionists, community activists and United Nations officials, clergy and artists.

Adam is the author of Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities, about which Nelson Mandela said: “This breakthrough book addresses the central challenge of our time: finding a way to work together to solve the problems we have created.” He is also the author of Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change and Transformative Scenario Planning: Working Together to Change the Future.

During the early 1990s, Adam was head of Social, Political, Economic and Technological Scenarios for Royal Dutch Shell in London. He has held strategy and research positions with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (San Francisco), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (Paris), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Vienna), the Institute for Energy Economics (Tokyo), and the Universities of Oxford, Toronto, British Columbia, California, and the Western Cape.

Adam has a B.Sc. in Physics (First Class Honours) from McGill University (Montreal), an M.A. in Energy and Resource Economics from the University of California (Berkeley), and an M.A. in Applied Behavioural Science from Bastyr University (Seattle). He has also studied negotiation at Harvard Law School and cello performance at Institut Marguerite-Bourgeoys.

Adam and his wife Dorothy live in Montreal and Cape Town.

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Collaborating with the Enemy

Introduction: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust

We face the same basic challenge everywhere: at home and work, in business and politics, on community and national and global issues. We are trying to get something done that we think is crucial. To do this, we need to work with others. These others include people we do not agree with or like or trust. And so we are torn: we think that we must work with these others and also that we must not. Collaboration seems both imperative and impossible. What do we do?

The reason such collaborations seem impossible is that we misunderstand collaboration.Our conventional understanding of collaboration is that it requires us all to be on the same team and headed in the same direction, to agree on what has to happen and make sure this happens, and to get people to do what needs to be done. In other words, we assume that collaboration can and must be under control. Conventional collaboration looks like a planning meeting.

But this conventional assumption is wrong. When we are working in complex situations with diverse others, collaboration cannot and need not be controlled.

Unconventional, stretch collaboration abandons the assumption of control. It gives up unrealistic fantasies of harmony, certainty, and compliance, and embraces messy realities of discord, trial and error, and cocreation. Stretch collaboration looks like martial arts practice. Stretch collaboration enables us to get things done even in complex situations with people we don’t agree with or like or trust.

Two Approaches to Collaboration

Approaches to Collaboration Illustrations

Approaches to Collaboration Illustrations

Approaches to Collaboration Illustrations

Stretch collaboration requires us to make three fundamental shifts in how we work.

First, in how we relate with our fellow collaborators, we must stretch away from focusing narrowly on the collective goals and harmony of our team, and move toward embracing both conflict and connection within and beyond the team.

Second, in how we advance our work, we must stretch away from insisting on clear agreements about the problem, the solution, and the plan, and move toward experimenting systematically with different perspectives and possibilities.

And third, in how we participate in our situation—in the role we play—we must stretch away from trying to change what other people are doing, and move toward entering fully into the action, willing to change ourselves.

Stretch collaboration is challenging because all three of these stretches require us to do the opposite of what seems natural. Rather than shrink away from complexity we must plunge into it. Often this feels uncomfortable and frightening.

These stretches require us to pluralize: to move away from paying attention only to one dominant whole, one optimum plan, and one superior leader, toward attending to multiple diverse holons (wholes that are part of larger wholes), multiple emergent possibilities, and multiple cocreators.

Getting things done in complex situations with diverse others is never straightforward. Energies must be mobilized; needs must be balanced; actions must be taken. Stretching does not make this work disappear; it just enables us to do it with less fear and distraction and more connection and awareness. The proverb says, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” After enlightened stretching, we still have our work to do, but now we have a better chance of doing it successfully.

This book presents a theory and practice of stretch collaboration. Chapter 1 explains why collaboration is necessary and why it is intrinsically difficult. Chapter 2 suggests a way to decide when to collaborate and when instead to force, adapt, or exit. Chapter 3 specifies the limitations of conventional collaboration and the narrow conditions under which it is applicable. Chapter 4 outlines stretch collaboration, and chapters 5, 6, and 7 elaborate the three stretches it entails: embracing conflict and connection, experimenting a way forward, and stepping into the game. The conclusion off ers a program of exercises to put these ideas into practice.

Collaborating with the Enemy


Collaboration Is Becoming More
Necessary and More Difficult

The urge to form partnerships, to link up in collaborative arrangements, is perhaps the oldest, strongest, and most fundamental force in nature. There are no solitary, free living creatures: every form of life is dependent on other forms.

—Lewis Thomas 1

Collaboration is often imperative and usually challenging. And the more we need it, the more difficult we find it.


In November 2015, I was facilitating the first workshop of a group of 33 national leaders. They had come together to search for solutions to their country’s most critical problem: the devastating nexus of insecurity, illegality, and inequality. Everyone at the meeting was worried about this situation and determined to do something about it, and they thought that together they might be able to do more than separately. I thought the project was important and was determined to do a good job.

The participants came from every part of the society: politicians, human rights activists, army generals, business owners, religious leaders, trade unionists, intellectuals, journalists. They had deep ideological differences, and many of them were political or professional or personal rivals. Mostly they didn’t agree with or like or trust each other. In the country and in the group, suspicion and defensiveness were sky-high.

To solve their most important problem, these people needed to work together, but they weren’t sure they could.

I thought the workshop was going well. The participants were talking about their very different experiences and perspectives, all together and in small groups, and at meals and on walks and on trips outside the hotel to visit local people and projects. They were cautiously starting to get to know one another and to hope that together they could make a difference.

Then, on the final morning, the project organizing team (eleven locals and my colleagues and me) got into an argument about some things that were not going well: methodological confusions, logistical glitches, communication breakdowns. Some of the organizers thought I was doing a bad job, and the next day they wrote a critical note that they circulated among themselves.

One of the team members forwarded the note to me. I felt off ended and upset that the organizers were challenging my expertise and professionalism behind my back. I was frightened that the accomplishment and income I was expecting from the project were at risk. I thought I needed to defend myself, so I sent off first one, then a second, and then a third email explaining why, in my expert view, what I had done in the workshop had been correct. I knew that I had made some mistakes but was worried that if I admitted these now, I would be opening myself up to greater danger. I was certain that overall I was right and they were wrong: that they were the villains and I was the victimized hero.

As the week went on and I had phone conversations with different organizers, my attitude hardened. I thought the people who were blaming me for the problems we were having were unconscionably betraying our team effort and me. I fought back and blamed them. I became increasingly suspicious, mistrustful, assertive, and rigid. I also wanted to keep myself safe, so I became increasingly cautious and canny. I decided that I didn’t agree with or like or trust these organizers and didn’t want to engage with them on this matter or to work with them anymore. What I really wanted was for them to disappear.


This short, sharp conflict enabled me to feel in my gut a challenge that I had been thinking about for a long time. In order to make progress on this project, which was important to me, I needed to work with others. These others included people I did not agree with or like or trust. I slipped into thinking of them as my enemies. This polarization within our team put the work we were doing at risk. Moreover, in this small interaction within our team, we reproduced a central dynamic in the larger national system—mistrust, fragmentation, breakdown—that the project had been established to counter.

In this ordinary incident, I enacted a common behavior or syndrome that I call enemyfying: thinking and acting as if the people we are dealing with are our enemies—people who are the cause of our problems and are hurting us. In different contexts we use different words with subtly different connotations for the people from whom we differentiate ourselves: others, rivals, competitors, opponents, adversaries, enemies. We use these characterizations often, in both ordinary and extraordinary contexts, sometimes thoughtfully and sometimes casually, even habitually. But the enemies are always the others: those people. It’s like the jokes about the conjugation of irregular verbs, such as “I am firm, you are obstinate, he is a pig-headed fool.” The enemyfying equivalent is “I see things differently, you are wrong, she is the enemy.”

We see enemyfying all around us. It dominates the media every day: people identifying others not just as opponents to be defeated but as enemies to be destroyed. These others are variously labeled as nationalists and cosmopolitans, immigrants and racists, corporations and environmentalists, terrorists and infidels.

The 2016 US presidential election overflowed with enemyfying. Speaking of Donald Trump’s campaign, comedian Aasif Mandvi explained how enemyfying creates a self-perpetuating vicious circle:

Trump is essentially tapping into the most fearful, racist, xenophobic, fear-based mind-set in this country, but he’s also justifying that in other parts of the world. Whether it’s ISIS or it’s Trump—what they’re basically saying is: There’s a reason you should be afraid, there’s a reason you should feel disenfranchised, there’s a reason that you should feel angry, and it’s because of those people, over there. 2

Enemyfying, vilifying, and demonizing pervade political discourse around the world. And we enact this enemyfying syndrome not only in politics but also at work and at home.

I do a lot of enemyfying. I tell myself stories about how other people are messing things up: colleagues, clients, suppliers, neighbors, family. I know that these aren’t complete or fair stories about what is happening and that telling these stories isn’t a productive way to spend my time. I also know that many people do the same—for example, in couples counseling, which most people enter thinking, “Our problems are my partner’s fault, and I hope this counseling makes them understand that they need to change.” But enemyfying is seductive because it reassures us that we are OK and not responsible for the difficulties we are facing.

Enemyfying is a way to understand and deal with real differences. It simplifies into black and white our overwhelmingly complex and multihued reality, and thereby enables us to clarify what is going on and mobilize energies to deal with it. But, as journalist H. L. Mencken said, “Th ere is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.” 3 Our enemyfying, which feels exciting and satisfying, even righteous and heroic, usually obscures rather than clarifies the reality of the challenges we face. It amplifies conflicts; it narrows the space for problem solving and creativity; and it distracts us, with unrealizable dreams of decisive victory, from the real work we need to do.


The enemyfying syndrome that I have observed and enacted is at the heart of the challenge of collaboration.

In politics and at work and at home, collaboration is both necessary and difficult. We want to get something done that is important to us, but to do so, we need to work with people who view things differently than us. And the more important the issue and different the views, the more necessary and difficult the collaboration.

The central challenge of collaboration is crystallized in the tension between its two dictionary definitions. It means simply “to work jointly with,” but also “to cooperate traitorously with the enemy.” 4 The word therefore evokes both a story of generous and inclusive progress, such as an energetic and creative work team (“We must all collaborate!”), and a story of degenerative and amoral villainy, as in France during World War II (“Death to collaborators!”).

The challenge of collaboration is that in order to make our way forward, we must work with others, including people we don’t agree with or like or trust, while in order to avoid treachery, we must not work with them.

This challenge is becoming more acute. People are more free and individualistic and so more diverse, with more voice and less deference. Their identities and affiliations are more fluid. Enabled by new technologies, established political, organizational, social, and familial hierarchies are breaking down. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are growing.

Increasingly often, we are therefore unable to get things done unilaterally or only with our colleagues and friends. More and more, we need to work with others, including our opponents and enemies—and we find it more and more difficult to do so.

This collaborative challenge is wonderful in that it grows out of the weakening of authoritarianism and subservience. And it is terrible in that, if we fail to meet it, we will produce ever-increasing fragmentation, polarization, and violence.

We must find a way to collaborate more effectively.

We are face-to-face with the challenge of collaboration when we say, “I could never work with those people!” What do we mean by this common exclamation? Maybe we mean that we don’t want to work with those people, or that we are not able to, or that we don’t need to. In such situations, when we think it is not desirable or possible or necessary to work with certain others, then obviously we will try to work without them or against them: to avoid them or defeat them.

But what do we do when we think it is necessary to work with these others? This might be because we worry that we can’t avoid or defeat them, or they have some skill or resource that we need, or we believe it would be wrong to exclude them.

Such situations present us with the central challenge of collaboration. We see these other people’s values and behaviors as different from ours; we believe they are wrong or bad; we feel frustrated or angry. Although we know that we have to work with them, we wish we didn’t. We worry that we will have to compromise or betray what we believe is right and matters most to us. In these situations, although we see that we need to collaborate with those people, we don’t see how we can do so successfully.

How can we succeed, then, in working with people we don’t agree with or like or trust?

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“Kahane writes with humility, sharing what he has learned from both his successes and his failures over a long career dedicated to helping address some of the world's toughest problems. Collaborating with the Enemy offers practical guidance for how to work with diverse others, which is a precondition for confronting many of the complex challenges we face.”
—Morris Rosenberg, President, Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada

“Adam Kahane worked with us on the future of our country. The four scenarios we built have come to life one after another, and today we are living the best one. In
Transformative Scenario Planning, Kahane explains how scenario planning can transform the future. In Colombia we can attest that such transformation is really possible.”
—Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize recipient

Power and Love is a profound book that offers us a wise way to negotiate our toughest group, community, and societal challenges.”
—William Ury, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Harvard Negotiation Project, and coauthor of Getting to Yes

Solving Tough Problems is a breakthrough book that addresses the central challenge of our time: finding a way to work together to solve the problems we have created.”
—Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize recipient

“Kahane addresses an important challenge that we face every day: how can we move forward together in situations where we are in conflict and unable to construct a shared vision of the future? In doing this he overturns conventional practice—including his own—and proposes a new approach to collaboration that is better suited to our difficult current context.”
—Jan Kees Vis, Global Director, Sustainable Sourcing Development, Unilever

Solving Tough Problems helped me understand that all our pressing problems—be they strategic issues inside a company or societal challenges like conflict, poverty, or climate change—require that those with a stake and the power to act come together in open dialogue to create a joint diagnosis and a deep commitment to moving forward together. In Power and Love, Adam goes further and deeper—into the kind of leadership that it takes to do this. A must-read for every reflective leader.”
—Ravi Venkatesan, Director, Infosys, and former Chairman, Microsoft India

“Our societies face really hard problems—poverty, injustice, unsustainability, corruption—that are insoluble by conventional means. Conflicts of interest and profound uncertainties about the future are producing paralysis and inaction. Adam Kahane has, more than anyone, developed and successfully employed tools that enable us to create futures of shared progress and profit.”
—Peter Schwartz, Senior Vice President,, and author of The Art of the Long View

Collaborating with the Enemy, Adam Kahane shows that people who don't see eye-to-eye really can come together to solve big challenges. Whether in our businesses, our governments, our communities, or our personal lives, we can all benefit from this smart and timely book.”
—Mark Tercek, President, The Nature Conservancy; former Managing Director, Goldman Sachs; and coauthor of Nature's Fortune

“Adam Kahane proposes a solid and clear methodology, supported by his experience in the many processes in which he has participated, that invites us to defy our situation and to transform—not only to change—it, beginning by transforming ourselves.”
—Luis Raúl González Pérez, President, National Human Rights Commission, Mexico

“Kahane takes the core message from his seminal 
Power and Love into uncharted territory: our messy, challenging, and necessary task of working with others to solve intractable problems. He redefines collaboration, testing our assumptions about the interplay between individual agency and collective action. At once theory, memoir, and practical guide, Collaborating with the Enemy is a vital primer for people working at all scales to make the world a better place.”
—Ross McMillan, President, Tides Canada

“Nowadays, opposition and conflict are the new normal, yet normal responses to them seem impotent. Amid this chaos and as if delivered to us by ‘special order,'
Collaborating with the Enemy shows us how thinking and seeing differently can help us navigate this challenging landscape. Kahane abandons orthodoxy in taking on the most intransigent problems, showing us the path to effective action in a complex world.”
—James Gimian, Publisher, Mindful magazine, and coauthor of The Art of War and The Rules of Victory

Transformative Scenario Planning is a deeply human book that offers tangible means for tackling the intractable problems that confront us at every level of life, from domestic and local to national and beyond. It offers realistic, grounded hope of genuine transformation, and its insights and lessons should be part of the toolbox of everyone in leadership roles.”
—Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town

“In our field, the hardest nut to crack is how to address conflicts between parties with fundamentally different worldviews. Adam offers a robust theory and a straightforward practice to address this vital challenge.”
—Ofer Zalzberg, Senior Middle East Analyst, International Crisis Group

“How many of us have dreamed of developing the art of helping others solve ‘impossible' problems and bridge ‘uncrossable' divides? Adam Kahane has taken that journey. Read, listen, absorb, and integrate.”
—Peter Goldmark, former President, The Rockefeller Foundation

“To transcend the perilous state in which we find ourselves, we need to learn to collaborate with those with whom we'd rather not. Drawing on his experience enabling sworn enemies to create peace in places like South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Colombia, Adam Kahane shares insights and lessons we can all use when collaborating with ‘those others' is our only or best way forward.
Collaborating with the Enemy belongs on the same shelf as Sun Tzu's The Art of War and Machiavelli's The Prince.”
—Stephen Huddart, President, The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation

“Adam Kahane helps us overcome romantic and linear approaches to conflict transformation.
Collaborating with the Enemy provides a hands-on critique of the myth of the uninvolved mediator and explains the art of working with the enemy.”
—Gorka Espiau, Associate Director, The Young Foundation, and former Peace Advisor to the President, Basque Government

“Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.' His life was the unfolding of an even deeper truth: the need to change himself if he wanted to change the world. Hence, his autobiography was titled
My Experiments with Truth. Adam's story of his engagements with people in many countries, whom he was called to help in their efforts to change their worlds, is an account of his own realization of Gandhi's deeper insight. It is an honest and beautifully told story.”
—Arun Maira, former member, National Planning Commission, and former Chairman, Boston Consulting Group, India

Power and Love includes the story of the Visión Guatemala team, in which a group of us, who in the ordinary course of events would never have met or worked together, had an unprecedented experience that opened up new horizons for us and for our country. Adam helped us cultivate our dreams and ideals and gave us the energy and hope to act to renew our society.”
—Raquel Zelaya, former Secretary of Peace, Guatemala

“Advances and changes in humankind have left the world with supercomplex problems—from achieving sustainable development to maintaining peace and security—that require changes in the way we face them.
Collaborating with the Enemy gives us not only a privileged look into Adam's extensive experiences in high-level engagements to address these problems but also his honest and brave reflection on his successes and failures, and from these his articulation of an important new approach to collaboration.”
—Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, former Head, President of Indonesia's Delivery Unit, and Distinguished Practitioner, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

“The quality of a decision depends in large part on the quality of the process by which the decision is made. But the political process in my country (as in most) actually causes us to ‘enemyfy' each other. If we are to solve the great challenges of our time, whether climate change or economic division and social unravelling, we must learn how to collaborate with those we believe to be our enemies. Adam shows us a way to do so.”
—James Shaw, Member of Parliament and Coleader, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand

Collaborating with the Enemy is a lighthouse for our troubled times. If we are to find a way to reconcile the divides that imperil our common life, here we have a profound guide and a source of hope.”
—Rufus Black, Master, Ormond College, The University of Melbourne

Power and Love is a rare and valuable book. Kahane has immersed himself in the practical challenges of helping people effect social change, and against this backdrop he unfolds a simple and penetrating insight: that power and love are two axes that delineate our individual and collective journeys. Either we master the balance of power and love or we will fail in our efforts to realize deep and lasting change.”
—Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of The Fifth Discipline

Solving Tough Problems is a seminal book. Exciting, vital, essential reading.”
—Edgar H. Schein, Professor of Management Emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management, and author of Humble Inquiry

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