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Can I Dislike You and Still Be Your Partner?

By July 23, 2014October 2nd, 20193 Comments

Two cats face offEverybody seems to be talking about partnership these days. There are funder partners and organizational partners and strategic partners and sector partners. We in the social benefit business love to use the word “partnership.” Even here at Rockwood, partnership is one of our practices. We value it deeply.

It can be easy to partner with people who are like us, who share a similar worldview, value system, or way of doing things. It is much more challenging to be in relationship with folks who see things from diametrically opposed points of view. Here’s the conundrum: what if we don’t actually like the person we’re expected to partner with?

Years ago, in deepening my own partnership practice, I decided to take on George W. Bush as my spiritual brother. At the time, he seemed like the most challenging person I could envision to “partner” with. I imagined having dinner and conversation with him. I imagined him as a boy — perhaps someone I grew up with. As my imagined relationship with him grew, I noticed that my propensity to reject, disdain and belittle him diminished.

I began to see George as a human among humans, a person doing what he saw as his piece in the world. While this “partnering practice” was never easy, it softened some of my anger and outrage based on the choices he made. This in turn, allowed me to be more spacious, mindful and resilient in how I responded to his actions and policies. It was liberating for me, and I became much more effective. I offer this as an extreme example, but this practice can be used closer to home.

A couple years ago, I met someone whose worldview and approach were very much in alignment with mine – we had much in common. Despite the fact that we were so aligned, I could not stand this person. Every time they opened their mouth, I got triggered and wanted to run screaming from the room. Nonetheless, we had some important work to do together, and I knew that I had a responsibility to shift in order to make our work possible.

I called on my Rockwood tools—meshing and authentic communications. I even called on my practice with George! I imagined myself in relationship to this person over time. I imagined us having dinner conversations and growing up together. Again, it shifted my capacity to engage with much less rancor. It created space for me to step out of momentary frustration and impatience, and to take a larger view of what might be possible between us. Even today, there are moments where I want to tear my hair out when we are in a meeting together, but I know that that’s just a trick of my mind, a story I tell myself about who this person is. When I create more spaciousness for me and for them, I can go back to the essential work we have to do — together as partners.

Do we have to like each another to be good partners? Honestly, it helps.

While it may ease things, if liking someone is criteria for partnership, we’ll be quite limited in our work toward a just and equitable world. So my request is this: let’s create more space both for ourselves and for those who challenge us. We’ll need every single one of us if we’re going to make deep and lasting change.

From my heart to yours.

July 2014

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Flickr photo credit: Face off 2 by Sandy Shultz


  • Katherine says:

    Hi Akaya! Thank you so much for your honest truth. This dynamic of working with peers with different perspectives I have found to become more frequent the more passionate and believer I am in a specific issue. What has worked for me is to look at people’s different perspective as a gift and an opportunity to learn what people unlike me really think about. This helps me to strategize and be prepared when I do come across people I don’t like to find entry points of where we would have commonalities.

    You’re right. It’s all about our own approach with people. Rockwood was so helpful to me personally in helping me identify moments when I’m being triggered and develop my own instinctual coping mechanism. Just naming these realities also helps me get through situations, and as everything, it takes practice to get better at engaging people in a different way. We won’t get too much done if we keep preaching to the choir. So instead of looking at people we don’t like as the enemy, we can look at them as an unlikely ally. And there’s always the knowledge of knowing that you have the choice of not engaging with them at all times.

  • Anjan Prakash says:

    Dear Akaya, thank you for this wonderful post.
    I believe it is a very important discussion.

    Though I am a `work in progress’ when it comes to partnering with people who think very differently, what helps me immensely is the acceptance of the person without the identity that he/she holds in the professional world. The fact that I am working with another human being who is certainly likely to be different than me based on his/her experiences, allows me to stay Present to their discussions. By becoming a good listener first, you create a space for a better relationship. This shift in understanding and being non-judgmental, has suddenly converted the `difficult’ relationships to `pleasant’ ones, and that to me is the beginning of my own growth. Challenges come in many forms, and I am beginning to see that the Universe has put them there to see how I evolve through such challenges – how much oneness I can feel.
    And inspite of this understanding if it is still seeming difficult, I do my best to accept it and tell myself that the next time if there is a possibility or a choice of working with someone else, I will do so. Somehow when we take our best to the table, it does change the situation quite beautifully.
    Thank you for this sharing. I learnt so much more from this post.

  • Akaya says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful replies. Yep, it can be challenging to make the leap across ideologies or world-views, but ultimately it’s satisfying — even if just for having tried.

    I keep returning to the truth that we need each other. Everyone matters.

    sending love,

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