Dear enemy – how effective leaders turn office rivals into collaborators

Unhealthy and uncontrolled rivalry at work can sap energy, productivity and focus – at best. At worst, it can mean bullying, legal action or even career death. Rivalries can be destructive at all levels – the jealous boss who does not acknowledge your good work, an over-competitive colleague who blocks your ideas and, last but not least, the undermining subordinate. Instead of just containing rivals, however, effective leaders turn rivals into collaborators.


Writing in the Harvard Business Review, workplace experts Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap suggest the 3Rs solution for turning adversaries into allies.

Step 1 is Redirection, directing the rival’s more negative emotions so that they are channeled away from you. Redirection does not have to be hidden – audience members accept redirection is happening with stage magic but this does not lessen the acceptance of the technique. Personal interactions work similarly – for example praise and even flattery are effective weapons. Another tactic is to introduce discussions of things you and your rival have in common.

This lays the groundwork for the Step 2 – Reciprocity. The principle here is to give before you ask – giving up something of value before asking for a fair trade. By giving and not asking for something in return straightaway, you establish a relationship and don’t just carry out a transaction.

Step 3 – Rationality – is based on the fledgling relationship you have built with the first two steps, so that your efforts don’t come across as dishonest or pandering.

When rationality follows redirection and reciprocity, it should push your adversary into considering the situation from a reasoned viewpoint, looking at a valued opportunity that could be lost.


iHR believes that leadership is a creative art and can be shown at all levels – while the 3Rs won’t work in all situations, constructive team relationships are essential to a productive workplace and will help prevent wasteful covert and overt workplace disputes.