Converting Enemies into Friends: How to Work (Well) with the Most Difficult People

Converting Enemies into Friends: How to Work (Well) with the Most Difficult People


“First like. Then be liked.”

Lessons on Enemies and Influence…

If you were to break down my annual spending, almost all of it would fall under three categories: Education, Experiences and People.

Business or personal, there’s never been a more profitable way for me to allocate resources.

For the past few years, I’ve made it a ritual to invest a few weeks (and usually $5,000-$10,000) in immersing myself in the experiences I believe can significantly move the needle. Now I see the investment as mandatory. The results have made it so.

I realize this isn’t chump change and that not everyone has $5-10k to spare at the moment. But we all have the same amount of time. When I didn’t have the money, I poured myself into books, TED Talks, videos and websites, and showed up and made my own introductions to people I admired. And I still do it because this type of learning is nearly (if not totally) free. No excuses.

And believe me, as soon as you decide to find a way to pay for the right specific environment and practical education – and you promise yourself to actually integrate it into your world – you’ll adopt the same annual ritual.

Well, I’m deep in the heart of one of those times. I swear this isn’t always how my schedule is, but right now things are a bit crazy…

I’m currently on a flight from New York to Whistler, Canada to attend the TEDActive conference for the next five days. The first guy I recognized and said hello to in the flight check-in line was Seth Godin. The 3-Second Rule went straight into effect as I immediately thanked him for all the guidance he provided for our Live Your Legend Local communities a year or so ago. He seemed excited to hear the progress we’ve made. He’s sitting about five rows in front of me.

Something tells me I’m in the right place.

Update: Now that I’m at the conference, I had to share one of my favorite talks so far: What I learned from going blind in space. Amazing story of confronting fear!

And this week is far from the beginning…

I spent all day Saturday at Jonathan Fields’ RevolutionU workshop in New York City. I took the stage to speak about taking a revolution from virtual to the real-world as I explained what all of our Live Your Legend Local Hosts and attendees have made possible in over 100 countries.

There was an audible gasp when I showed our map of cities and then an uproar of applause when the picture of Ben and his 35 Living Legends from Kisumu, Kenya, with their ginormous hand-painted LYL Local sign, was projected onto the big screen.

And what made the experience even more surreal was seeing some of our hosts in the audience – two from Australia (Leah and Naz from Rock Your Purpose Live) and Heather, our Paris host, who couldn’t wait to tell me about the group of 50 or so she had out on the grass outside the Louvre earlier that week!

Thank you all for helping us represent this weekend and making the discussion of our Revolution possible. And yes, I told them all the ways we’re screwing up along the way too. Advice is pretty useless without full disclosure. 🙂

While I did get to share our LYL Local story, most of my energy was devoted to learning from everyone else. As always, I’m as much a student as the rest of us. And I have over 30 pages of notes to show for it. (Just a bit obsessive with writing things down…)

But the education marathon actually started on Thursday morning in Mesa, Arizona where Liz and I attended a 2-day immersion workshop on Ethical Influence put on by Robert Cialdini.

I first met Dr. Cialdini at Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Annual meeting (another yearly ritual of mine), and I’ve studied and referenced his work around LYL ever since. But last week’s experience totally transformed things.

Cialdini has spent over 35 years conducting scientific in-the-field research on ethical influence and is the most cited living psychologist on the topic in the world. We were in good hands.

And while they covered endless research-backed case studies and practical applications, the reality is that it was simply a workshop on how to better connect, work with and help those around you. That’s why I showed up. For those of you a part of our Connect With Anyone community, you might know what I’m talking about. 😉 It was so cool to see how much of what Cialdini teaches appears in CWA in one way or another. No surprise, I guess, given how much the guy’s work has changed me.

Simply put, lots of learning is happening over here.

But what’s an article about education without sharing some of the good stuff?

Today I’d like to teach you all one thing I was reminded of last week that I think probably has one of the most powerful and immediate 80/20 applications of all. It applies to any relationship, but today we’ll discuss it in the context of business, since that’s what so many of you have asked for…

How to Convert Enemies into Friends: Working (Well) with the Most Difficult People

No fun climbing mountains alone

Of the thousands of emails, comments and survey responses we get from our community each month, a large majority have something to do with people, and specifically the people you work with. We know how much environment impacts our surroundings, so it should go without saying that not liking your boss and/or colleagues (and them feeling the same about you) is useful to no one.

My most effective long-term solution for dealing with most haters and other toxic “friends” and colleagues is to get them out of your life and replace them with inspiring folks. Life’s too short.

But that’s not always realistic, especially in the short-term. And no matter where and how we live, there will always be people we wish we got along better with.

Let’s start this discussion with one simple realization:

It doesn’t feel good to dislike people.

No one wants to waste their time and energy on it, but we often get too immersed in a tough situation to think clearly enough to do something logical about it. But once you do, it’s not nearly as hard as you’d think.

So let’s talk about what to do if you need to work with difficult people, immediately – like today and this week.

The beauty lays in the simplicity of the approach…

Find One Thing You Like about the Other Person 

That’s it. Now for the details…

Ideally, we want to get this person to like us, and that’s what most common advice would suggest: Do certain things to make them think better of you.

The problem is, how someone perceives us is not directly in our control. But while we can’t control the way people treat us, we are 100% in control of how we treat them, and that can have more influence on you and the relationship than you probably realize.

So the real first step is turning the standard advice on its head…

Find a way to like the person who doesn’t like you.

In order to mend a relationship, you have to alter your own perception of them. You can’t make someone genuinely like and want to work with you if you don’t honestly feel the same. It starts with you. Sure, it’s possible you could trick them short term, but that’s not how we roll at LYL – we’re building a lifetime here.

Learning to like someone isn’t as hard as you’d think, especially if it could change both your jobs from miserable to fun, even if right now they’re a pain in your ass.

What makes us like others?

Simply put, we like people who are like us. Similarities are what create connection and rapport. The problem is when someone’s rude to you, our natural reaction is to find a justification for it – to find a reason not to like them in return. It’s our defense mechanism. Then we stack the negative “evidence” and the circular pattern of frustration begins.

Our job is to notice and do something to reverse the spiral.

Step #1: Decide why you genuinely care.

If it’s not genuine, you’re going to get nowhere. What’s the underlying reason why it’s so important for you to improve the relationship? If your why is not compelling enough, the rest of these steps will be nearly impossible.

Step #2: Do your homework.

Research whatever you can. Act as if they were a dream connection you’re dying to befriend. Learn all you can about their life, what excites them, what they’re good at, where they need help. Lean about family, hobbies, talents, fears – anything’s fair game.

One business negotiations study found that the most talented negotiators spend 400% more time searching for shared interests and goals before a meeting than their peers. Research matters.

Step #3: Find one thing in common.

Common ground creates connection, and if you research from a place of genuine compassion, chances are you’ll find things that support your desire to connect. A number of studies show that something as trivial as similar sounding names causes two people to feel a deeper connection and get along better. And that’s just the start. The deeper the connection, the deeper the similarity, the more you like each other. Look for similar backgrounds, family history, personal stories and experiences. And most importantly, find similar attitudes, values and beliefs to align with.

Imagine if you discovered that for the past decade one of your “enemies” had been deeply supporting the same micro charity for helping abandoned children in rural east Africa that you had been supporting most your adult life. Suddenly they’re more like you, and odds are you’ll start to feel at least slightly differently.

Sure, the far-off charity example might be a stretch, but any common ground can be used as a basis for initial alignment. From there, humans naturally like to find ways to reinforce and support other existing beliefs and relationships – just like we do when meeting a new friend. We somehow manage to keep finding common ground upon which to deepen the relationship.

Step 4: Begin to admire this one thing about them.

It will likely start small, especially if there’s been bad blood between you two. Isolate that one piece of similarity and give it focus. Find a way to bring it up with them. Thank them for the value it adds to the work you both are doing or what it provides for others. Give genuine praise with specific examples to back it up.

Step 4.5: For bonus points, ask them for help.

This strategy has been coined the Benjamin Franklin Effect ever since Franklin realized the goodwill that was built with his enemies after asking them for help in an area in which they were uniquely and proudly qualified and talented. People are used to only helping people they like, and the reverse is also true. Humans naturally feel more affection towards people they help. The key is getting the help. And that starts with genuine interest.

Asking for help also gives you a chance to show your vulnerability a bit in admitting that you don’t have it figured out. This openness can cause the other side to reciprocate the same openness, further deepening the connection.

Step 5: Praise them behind their back.

Often more powerful (and sometimes more appropriate) than telling the person directly is to share your appreciation for them with their friends and colleagues. Even if most people talk negatively behind your boss’s back, your role is to constantly come back to the good you uncovered earlier. Third party praise is a powerful thing – as long as it’s true. It will eventually get back to the receiver.

Plus, hearing your genuine praise about someone close to them will likely cause their friends to like you more as well. And if you all your friends like someone, what are the odds that you eventually start to feel the same?

Step 6: Walk in their shoes.

We hear this all the time, but have you ever actually done it? The experience is crazy. Close your eyes and imagine you were seeing and experiencing the world through their eyes. If you shift this perspective, you’ll find a totally new side of compassion. Perhaps you’ll even see some of the light in the frustration they might have for you. But this won’t work unless you stop and give it real focus. Spend 15-20 minutes seeing the world from their side.

Changing perspectives helps us humanize the person instead of seeing them as a frustration in the center of our own world. Most negative actions show something deeper about the person acting. It’s your job to see that for what it is. When you see them as a person with just as many fears and issues as you have, this whole process starts to feel a lot better – and actually work.

Ask yourself, “If I were them, what would I do, think and feel?”

A study done by influence psychologist Dr. Gregory Neidert found that total deal negotiation time within a Fortune 100 company went down by over 30% (from 9 to 6 months) when executives took a few minutes at the beginning of each meeting to get to know and connect with their adversaries before getting down to business. That meant an average savings of $10-30 million dollars per deal!

People don’t just want to do business. They want to be understood and appreciated on a fundamental human level. They want to work with people they like. They want to work with their friends!

Getting there can be a lot simpler than you think as long as you care enough to step out of the emotion and pay attention.

Whatever you desire from someone else, you must first be willing to genuinely provide to the relationship.

If you want trust, give trust.

You want help, give help.

You want connection, give connection.

You want fun, throw a damn party!


First like, then be liked.

But this only has a chance of working if it’s genuine.

People want to like people who like them. You’re in control of that first step. That’s the fun part.

Most people unconsciously decide to hold grudges and stockpile anger and frustration – often for a lifetime. Think of how quickly things could start to change if you decided right now to rewrite that script…

How much better could things be if you decided to start liking the right people? How different could your impact become?

And most importantly, what kind of fun might you be missing out on?

The nice thing is it doesn’t have to be that way. Choice is yours.

Now it’s time to get back to drinking from the fire hose at TED – lots of friends I’ve yet to meet… If any of you are out here, let me know!


P.S. Got a relationship that could use a little more liking from both sides – or perhaps one you’ve already improved? Would you take a minute to tell us about it in the comments? You’re welcome to keep it anonymous if you’d like. We’re better for it either way. Thanks for sharing!


Photo Credits: First one taken by Chelsea in Maui, Hawaii and second by me while climbing Mt. Shasta in California during my bachelor party in 2010. See more adventures on Instagram