Finding Allies at Work

We can all use any allies we can get, right?. Work is challenging, and having to do everything alone, feeling that we have to make it all happen, this is exhausting. How can we find more allies to support our goals at work?

One way is to broaden our idea of what can be an ally. Not who, but what. With some thoughtful attention, we can make use of the situation around us as an ally to accomplish our goals for us.

For example, if we need to confront a difficult situation with people, we want everyone to come to the meeting with an open, flexible state of mind. The meeting room itself can be our ally in this.

Here’s how it works. If we walk into a room full of little gilt chairs with white cloth covers tied over their backs, or into a room with leather swivel chairs around a gleaming table, or into a room of stacking plastic chairs, we feel different in each room as soon as we walk in. The chairs alone have the ability to influence our state of mind. When we want to influence people’s state of mind, we can create conditions in the environment that can accomplish this goal for us. We miss an opportunity if we ignore the chairs.

Here’s a famous story.

Nelson Mandela needed to make peace with General Viljoen, an Afrikaner who led the militant white resistance to change in South Africa. After some work through intermediaries, the general was willing to meet and talk. He expected this meeting to be with himself and his allies on one side of a conference table, Mandela and his allies on the other, with a lot of intense disagreement and animosity, possibly leading to some concessions on one side or another.

Instead, Mandela invited the general to his own house. They sat near each other in comfortable chairs in Mandela’s living room, and Mandela himself served the general tea. Their human allies, who would in fact have been antagonists, waited in another room. By the end of the meeting the general had agreed to stop fighting.

Of course it wasn’t just the living room chairs. Nelson Mandela had an extraordinarily powerful personality and great skill with people. But he was also known for his skill at gathering all the allies he could. The conference table would have been a further antagonist in the conversation, another barrier between them to be overcome. The comfy chairs, where the two men could sit together, were a disarming pacifier that allowed the general to feel, in his whole being, the sensation of peace, even before any negotiation began.

Or this one?Of course, the most disarming and pacifying room in the world would not have worked if the general had walked in and said, “I’m not meeting here. I’m not one of your neighbors over for an afternoon chat.” Mandela knew whom he was dealing with. He knew that protecting family and home life were the main concerns of both whites and blacks, and he used this to advantage by meeting in his own home, where the chairs could be his allies.

Who are you dealing with? Is your board room your ally in your encounter with them, or does the gleaming table become another barrier between you? What kind of chairs will be your allies in helping everyone adopt an open, flexible attitude? What kind of room? If you think you don’t have time to go down the street to hold the meeting at the local pub, how much time will the pub save you by changing everyone’s state of mind for you?

We have more allies than we think, if we take time to consider what, not just who, they are.

May 2015 be a year of health, openness and flexibility for us all.


Would you please help me for a short, one click moment?

For 2015 I’m refining the basic marketing language for what I do. Please tell me if the descriptions below make you want to say, “I need that. Tell me more.” Your intuition about this question will be a really big help to me in seeing how to grow my business.

Just click the number of your choice below. (If you want to choose more than one, just come back to this email after the first.)

Choice 1 – “I work with leaders to achieve two essential goals: Better performance and deeper commitment for your people, and greater mastery of your own personal practice of leadership.”

Choice 2 – “I help executives and influencers change people’s attitude, because attitude changes everything.”

Choice 3 – “I help leaders lead their people, and themselves, to bring their personal best to work.”

Choice 4 – None of the above really make we want to say, “Tell me more.”

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