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Friend, Foe, Ally, Adversary ... or Something Else?

Many executives lack an effective framework for accurately classifying — let alone developing strategies for — their work relationships, leading to bad misjudgments and costly mistakes. The authors contend that professional relationships should be defined along one of two continuums: unconditional and conditional. Many career-ending mistakes can be traced back to a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference.
Relationships that are independent of situation and context are called unconditional. At one end of this spectrum are friends; at the other end are enemies. A friend inspires unconditional trust, whereas an enemy is someone who continually works against another person’s interests regardless of the circumstances. Although the most intense (and often the most time-consuming) connections are those with friends and enemies, the vast majority of business relationships are conditional, with allies and adversaries on opposite ends of the spectrum. Allies will promote another’s interests as long as doing so also serves their own self-interest. In contrast, adversaries will work against someone because their self-interest conflicts with the other person’s interests. The most important thing about such relationships is their transitory nature: An ally can easily turn into an adversary (and vice versa) given a change in circumstances.

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