How to Turn an Enemy Into a Friend, According to Ben Franklin

February 12, 2018

Learn from Benjamin Franklin how to make a work enemy into a friend.

Bold prediction of the day: there might be someone at work who you don’t get along with.

The problem? In your personal life, you can usually just avoid that person and it’s no big deal. But, at work, you likely need to see them regularly, work with them closely and perhaps even depend on them.

This can be tough, because often there is tension between you and the other person, even if its understated. How can you overcome that?

Well, use the advice of Ben Franklin. Or so leadership coach and UCLA Professor Dr. John Ullmen suggested in his LinkedIn Learning course, Influencing Others.

How to turn a work enemy into a friend, the Ben Franklin way

In the 18th century, when Franklin was around, there was a man Franklin worked with who he had an adversarial relationship with. He had to see this man regularly and they were pushing for the same goal, but they just didn’t get along.

So, Franklin got creative. The man had a large library he was very proud of. Franklin complimented the man on his library and asked to borrow a book from it. The man agreed and Franklin returned it on time, along with a thoughtful thank-you note.

That sole exchange turned Franklin’s biggest enemy into an ally, overnight. The two men worked closely together after that.

The technique? He asked his enemy for help in an area the enemy was strong in. Complimented, the enemy became a friend.

Three steps for using this technique

In his course, Ullmen gave three steps for using this technique. They are:

    1. Ask for help in an area they are strong in.

There’s no bigger compliment than asking someone help in an area they are strong in. For example, say they are great at giving presentations. Ask them for advice on how they prepare when you are preparing for a presentation yourself – they’ll be flattered.

    2. Make it simple.

You want to ask for something but you want to ask for something that’s easy for them to say yes to. Asking for advice is an easy ask. Or, like in the case of Franklin, asking if you can borrow a book.

Avoid big asks, like having them do your presentation for you or some task that’s going to take hours of their time. 

    3. Finally, express gratitude.

Lastly, if they do help you, thank them. Perhaps write them a nice email or get them a small present or something along those lines. That closes the loop – most of the time, by following these three steps, you’ll turn an enemy into a friend.

The real key to making this happen

Here’s the thing. It probably won’t be fun to ask someone you don’t like for help. It requires the swallowing of your pride.

But what’s the alternative? Stay resentful? And it’s not going away – if you work together, it could go on for years.

So, yes, this does require you to humble yourself. But, almost all the time, it’ll make for a much stronger relationship moving forward, and both of you will be happier.

Want to learn more? Watch John Ullmen’s full course, Influencing Others.

Other LinkedIn Learning courses you might be interested in are: