I first became aware of the phenomenon in college. As a member of the active and high-profile Student Entertainment Committee, our work as a major programming board was covered with increasing frequency by the student newspaper at the University of Rhode Island, The Good 5 Cent Cigar. As my time on SEC went on, we started finding bigger and bigger grievances with how our events were covered. We noticed inconsistencies in quoting members, incorrect references to our funding, and expression of strong frustration with acts we presented.

As most college students would, we got defensive. We swore to not grant comments to the paper, and took to making snide commentary as we passed their writers and editors on campus. To this day, there’s still a slight twinge when I find out that a friend from college wrote for them. I can’t help it, it’s instinct/muscle memory at this point.

But as childish as this seems now, I’m yet to work in a department as a professional that doesn’t have this relationship with another office or entity on their campus. Maybe it’s academic advising. Perhaps it’s the business office. Could be marketing or HR. The exact entity isn’t the important part, but rather what that treatment of “the rival” represents.

I’ll provide an example. We are in the process of a website redesign, and it’s been a lot of work to put everything together. Coming into my office yesterday morning, I caught myself audibly grumbling about the project- how it has to be formatted, how I’m unclear on how to put everything, on the timing of the due dates. But then I stopped – and I mean, physically stopped in the doorway of my office – and thought about it.

“Yes, this is a lot of work for me. But I know this stuff. I know the stuff that’s being covered far better than they do. If left to them, it would take more time to go back and edit what they’ve already done. It comes easily to me to describe our work.

What’s more, the site map shows me that as much work as this is for me, synthesizing it is going to be an inconceivably huge task for them. We’re all busy. If my taking time to synthesize content helps them represent the whole College better, I can take that time.”

I took a step that I didn’t know to in college (and that no one taught me to take at the time): I humanized the people behind my frustration. Am I still overwhelmed with the work it will take to get it right? Yes. Is it still at a far from ideal time (April? Why?!?!)? Yes. But taking that extra second to think about who it will impact is helping me get through it. And as you deal with your nemeses on your own campuses, think about the people. About their background. About how they, by your very nature, might not work as you do. Find a way to be okay with that difference, and how to use your strengths and talents to navigate it.

And if none of that works…you have my permission to through down the gauntlet 🙂

One thought on “Humanizing the “Enemy”

  1. There was a colleague that I routinely did not see eye-to-eye with. As much as I tried to avoid it, it seemed every meeting we had became contentious. I didn’t help the situation, because I focused on how differently we viewed our work. Then I decided to find out common thread – fatherhood. I was a newer parent and he was in the midst of raising two daughters. Regardless of any criticisms I might have created in my head about his approach to work, I also saw a doting, loving, and proud father. That helped create a more human person for me to work with and also created a bridge to our work together. I might start out a conversation sharing a new parent story and he would recount how he dealt with the situation. Empathy can work in two directions – it’s often about us walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, but it can also be about creating the opportunity for someone to walk in yours, or even remember that they actually have.

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