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Turning “Enemies" into Allies

In September’s Beyond the Turf, Lyn Purdy developed ideas as to how you can be a great coach. In this next piece we addressed the continuing need to be with your people as you and they try to give more to their role. We hope that the ideas have made a difference even this late in the season. But now the season is starting to wind down and other parts of your role as superintendent start to loom. This includes making “asks" that will set you up for success next year. This month, Michael Sider looks at ways to improve your odds of getting what you need and want to be successful.

Turning “Enemies" into Allies
Michael Sider, Ivey Business School

It’s happened yet again. You have been asked to cut back several lines in your budget: no new equipment next year, less spend on turf protection, and please reduce your conference travel and association dues. After all, the club is facing financial pressures, so why shouldn’t you share some of the pain? The GM is starting to look like your “enemy".

One of the greatest mistakes you can make in a career is to turn potential allies into enemies. Along the career path, you meet many people who have resources you clearly need in order to get your job done well. But sometimes those in charge of the resources won’t share them, even though it seems obvious to you that they both could share the resources and should share them. A request denied leads to bitter feelings toward the denier. Several requests denied lead you to think the person who denies you is your enemy. After you’ve demonized the other person, it becomes extremely difficult for you to reach out for the needed resources without showing a hostility that undermines the request from the beginning.

So, what can you do to avoid turning potential allies into enemies? Here are some tips, followed by a list of resources you might find useful in your attempt to see people who seem to stand in your way as people who actually want to help you.

Put yourself in the potential ally’s shoes. People who control resources—the Food and Beverage manager, your GM, the Board Chair—face the same pressure of measurement that you do, although their success may well be measured quite differently. Their need for resources is as great as yours, although the needs differ. Like you, they value certain things strongly, but they probably don’t clearly see what you value as a top priority for them. Understanding that the repeated rejection you’ve faced is nothing personal, but rather the result of the other person’s own pressures, needs, and values—the same things you face every day, although in different form—is a great start to turning your “enemy" into someone more human.

Then, the next time you go to speak with the person, show him/her that you’ve thought about that person’s pressures, needs, and values. You can even begin the conversation by expressing your identification with the other person: “Jim, I know money’s been short the past two years, and the shortfall has particularly affected your unit. Each year, you’re asked to maintain the great quality of service we’re known for and you value so much, but you have to do more with less. So I understand how difficult my request for help is right now for you. But let me tell you why working together on this could be good for everyone." Note that at the end of your opening, you’ve moved from showing you understand what it’s like to be in your potential ally’s shoes to framing your request for resources as a “win-win" solution for both of you, inviting your potential ally to see the situation from your point of view as well.

What do you have to offer? Go into the conversation having thought about what you have to offer the other person to induce him to help you. As Cohen and Bradford point out in their very useful book, Influence without Authority, many people who need things from another person, especially a person who possesses more authority, feel that they have little to offer the other person by way of reciprocation during the request. It’s always easier to ask for something when you can offer something in return. Sometimes, if you’re asking “up" for important resources (money, people, time), you may let the importance of those resources blind you to the resources you yourself possess, resources like recognition of the other person, appreciation, respect extended, understanding, and collegial help. You may feel these currencies are poor; however, for those in authority, who already possess “harder" currencies, these may be the very resources they’re looking for from below. Showing the other you’re eager to extend these resources (whether your request is affirmed or denied) can create the trust necessary for a discussion of allies rather than enemies.

Develop Trust. Of course, if you’ve already created a trust void between you and the other person—if you already have a rocky relationship—fix it before asking for anything. When there’s no trust, or you try to build trust at the last minute for the sake of getting what you want, it’s easy for the potential ally to see you as self-interested and fake.

Don’t Burn your Bridges. Finally, if you’re turned down (or, worse, turned down yet again), don’t burn your bridges. Go back to Step One. You’ve probably failed to see your request from the other person’s point of view, and haven’t worked hard enough to show the other person how s/he too—and the club as a whole—can benefit from your request.

Or maybe, upon reflection, you’ll realize you did all you could to put yourself in the other’s shoes, to frame your request in “win-win" terms, to offer the currencies you possess, and, if it did not exist, to build a bridge of trust—and the other person still turned you down. People are not always reasonable. At that point, it’s time to look for other allies—but that’s advice for another day.

Reading Resources for Turning “Enemies" into Allies

Allen Cohen and David Bradford, Influence without Authority: Second Edition. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

Bob Burg, Adversaries into Allies. New York: Penguin, 2013.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Simon &Schuster, 1936.