When most people think about enemies in business, they tend to focus on their competitors. After all, these individuals are chasing after your potential customers, trying to undercut you on price, and emulating your best practices that you’ve worked for years to develop. However, some enemies can be a lot closer than you realize, and it’s crucial to know how to work through conflicts with them.
I’ve seen firsthand how enemies can push you to become even more successful. After selling my social media marketing agency, I set out on a new path focused on digital marketing and PR for startups. I partnered with a PR expert to form a full-service digital marketing agency, and business took off.
We were so successful at generating new business for an executive recruiting client that the company’s owner wanted to invest in our agency, and we accepted his offer. Within just a few months, it became clear that my original business partner and the new partner passionately disagreed on almost everything. To make matters worse, the new partner was threatening me with lawsuits and bankruptcy if I didn’t fire my original partner.
In this situation, my new partner was starring in an enemy role, and I ultimately decided to side with him and let my original partner go. Fortunately, the costly feud and my decision to play nice with my new partner led to a beneficial change, of course.
This pivot allowed our team to focus on what we excelled at: lead generation and driving sales for promising startups that had physical products. Being able to move the needle so quickly on new accounts showed that this new team with my so-called enemy was an improved direction for our company. And I likely never would have gone down that road had it not been for the internal change and the need to find our marketing service niche.
4 Ways to Work With Your Enemy
Here’s how to play nice with your own enemies, whether they’re investors, business partners, or co-workers:
1. Trust your gut.
In business, there’s always an opportunity to change course and pivot in a new direction, and people around you will want to give all sorts of free advice. Instead, trust your instincts when you approach a conflict with an enemy. Often, overthinking will just slow down your time to act accordingly.
I didn’t always trust my gut, and I would lean on data instead, but there isn’t data for everything. To be honest, at first, I did not think that my new partner was going to help our business grow and achieve the success I had envisioned. But my gut also told me that our company needed a change to move forward. Listening to your gut doesn’t always provide the clearest path, but it is often pulling you toward the right direction.
2. Always have a backup plan.
In business, you’re confronted with thousands of daily decisions that affect future opportunities. Whenever possible, have a backup plan in case things don’t work out as well as you had hoped. This step will ensure you aren’t fumbling around for answers if enemies press you with questions or doubts. I wish I took this step more seriously.
When I started my company, I invested all of my life savings into funding it and even took loans from “sharks” to ensure I could meet payroll. Looking back, this choice might not have been the most calculated, especially when more than half of small businesses fail in the first four years.
I knew in the back of my mind that my new business partner could ruin the company and I would be left with nothing. So I began to build my personal brand more and focused on securing consulting gigs on the side to offset the potential demise of my company. Do the same by tapping into areas you are unfamiliar with and investing in your strengths so you always have something to lean on.
3. Communicate clearly and in person, and always follow up.
In order to earn trust, you need to be able to communicate clearly and confidently.
Across all forms of communication, make sure to take notes and follow up immediately so both parties are on the same page.
While working with my new partner, it was apparent that everything needed to be in writing just in case he attempted to undermine the company. This ended up saving us a lot of time and doubt with “he said, she said” dialogues. Keep a paper trail that documents all forms of communication, whether over the phone or in person. This way, you will hold yourself to a higher standard in how you communicate with adversaries and have receipts to reference or utilize.
4. Lighten up.
I always try to find the good in every day. You can follow suit by incorporating humor into your daily interactions. According to a survey from Robert Half International, an overwhelming 91 percent of executives feel that a sense of humor is critical to career advancement, while 84 percent find that employees with a sense of humor are better at their jobs.
It’s simple: People enjoy doing business with individuals they like, and humor is a good way to break the ice when you need to make tough decisions. Of course, gauge the situation and use humor sparingly, but don’t forget that a good laugh can be the key in communicating and working with people you don’t always get along with.
When you have a clear enemy in business, it’s tough to play nice. However, doubling down with aggression and negativity rarely makes your enemy go away. If I had parted ways with my enemy, I wouldn’t have created the business I have today. Instead of fighting your enemies, play nice with them, and you might be surprised by how well things turn out.