Why You Should Accept Your Adversaries as They Are—and How to Do It!
In reading the article title, you may be thinking to yourself, “Why in the (bleep) should I accept my adversaries? They are the last people I would want to accept! They only look to cause me harm.”
I fully understand those feelings. For years, I felt the same way. It’s clearly unnerving to think about accepting the people that cause us grief and even more challenging to do so.
However, when I look back, I now realize that I suffered unnecessarily from my refusal to accept people I disliked or despised, both in terms of greater personal anguish and counterproductive responses to their unsavory deeds.
Foes and adversaries come in many forms, including unscrupulous business competitors, overbearing bosses, unfriendly coworkers, litigants, sports opponents, and of course, bullies and control freaks.
With time, I have come to understand the benefits of accepting such people for who and how they are, and along the way, I’ve learned some important tools and strategies for accepting them that I will share with you.
One benefit is that accepting your adversaries helps you avoid or at least minimize harmful (and sometimes expensive) confrontations and retaliations and the stress and aggravation that accompany them. You also won’t be prone to shooting yourself in the foot!
However, the most important benefit (or gift, as I like to call it) of accepting your adversaries as they are is this:
You will make the decisions that are best for you!
Let me illustrate with a true life story. Several years ago I had a tenant whose business had rapidly grown and outgrew its warehouse space at one of my properties. It created serious problems because his delivery trucks constantly unloaded bulky inventory in parking areas at the property, impeding the adjacent tenant’s access to his own warehouse and parking spaces.
These acts were in clear violation of the terms of the tenant’s lease. The tenant in the adjoining unit complained to us that his business was suffering and showed us photos documenting the obstructions.
We talked to the problem tenant and showed him the photos. He denied that the unloading of inventory obstructed access for his neighbor, yet complied for a few days, but then he went back to unloading where he was not supposed to.
The adjacent tenant moved out of his space a month later.
At this point, I felt we had two options. We could sue for monetary damages for breach of the lease agreement and loss of the other tenant and also seek an injunction against further lease violations. Or we could pay for costly parking monitors to help reduce the infractions.
Because of my anger over the tenant’s wrongdoing, my first reaction was to have our attorney file suit. When I took the weekend to think further about the situation, another option began to evolve. I realized that the underlying truths were:
1. The tenant was doing what he was doing because he had no real choice given his rapid growth, not because he was intentionally trying to harm me. As they often say in mob films, “It’s nothing personal.” I accepted that it wasn’t. That defused my anger.
2. It would take money, time and a lot of aggravation to pursue legal action, and even though we would likely prevail, we might not be able to collect on the judgment.
I thus concluded that I needed to accept the tenant and situation for what it was. The tenant was acting out of “business survival” and I had little chance of stopping him.
So I chose a third option: do nothing and see how things played out. I also served notice that the tenant’s rent would be increased significantly if he remained after his lease expired.
The tenant moved out two months later.
The silver lining to the story is that a new tenant immediately leased the space at a 20 percent higher rate, increasing both our operating profit and the value of the property.
Keys to Accepting Your Adversaries
For sure, accepting our foes and adversaries as they are is never easy. It starts with understanding what acceptance doesn’t mean.
Understanding What Acceptance Is—and Isn’t!
Acceptance doesn’t mean that we are excusing or condoning what the person did or does. Nor does it mean that we have to negate our values and principles or not be able to take care of ourselves. Rather, it means we accept the underlying reality of the situation or person without judgment or negative feelings such as fear, anger, and resentment (or at least minimally so).
It is only by accepting our adversaries in such an even-keeled manner that we will be able to recognize the choices and opportunities that serve us best, as I did with my problem tenant. Why? With acceptance, the focus changes from others to you—and what you can do to better serve your own needs.
Don’t Act or React Impulsively
Pause and take the time to assess what’s really at stake with your grievance against someone and its overall importance. In doing so, consider whether you can realistically expect to change the person or what he is doing, as I did with my problem tenant. Remember that even if you feel you can have some impact on your adversary, consider whether any success is worth the cost and energy—and anguish.
You can gain more “pause time” by asking yourself such questions as these: “Is this something that is best left alone for now?” and “Am I making a mountain of a molehill?”
Address Your Fears
Our fears of what an adversary can or will do to harm us make us reactive instead of realistically addressing what we can do to protect or take care of ourselves. It’s easy to speculate in a negative manner or fall into a “False Evidence Appearing Real” fear mode.
When fear so dominates our thoughts and actions, there is little hope of accepting our adversary in a manner that allows us to make the choices that best serve us—whether it’s in work or business, on the playing field, or in our social affairs.
Most fears are illusory; they diminish and even leave once they are examined closely.
Process Your Anger
Feeling anger and resentment when someone hurts us is normal. What is important, however, is that these feelings be addressed and processed in a timely manner and not be allowed to linger. Continuing to harbor anger and resentment hurts mainly ourselves.
As the late Carrie Fisher says in her book Wishful Drinking, “Resentment is like drinking a poison and waiting for the other person to die.” I would add to that, “Or until we are too sick to take it anymore!”
Anger obscures what is objectively at stake, as well as what we can do to remedy it. Whatever has happened or been done to us by another, we still have a choice in the matter. We can remain enmeshed in our anger and resentment, or we can try to find ways to defuse it before we become “too sick.”
It need not be viewed as a matter of right or wrong. Even if we are in the right, it is to little avail if we remain bogged down by these negative feelings. And yes, retaliation is also an option, but at best, it makes us feel better for only a short while (if that) and far more likely serves mainly to exacerbate our torment.
Consider Your Role in the Grievance
You should always consider whether you had some role in the upsetting behavior of others. For example, were you smug, rude, or dismissive toward them? Did you misconstrue what they said or did? It takes courage and self-honesty to admit you may be at least partly at fault as well.
I believe you should always examine whether you were responsible in some way. Sometimes we can’t see our part in what transpired because the “sting” makes that difficult. With few exceptions, I have learned that no matter how innocent or right I thought I was about something that upset me, I was in some way responsible.
An Acceptance Challenge
The next time you deal with an adversary, an unpleasant person—or even a perceived “enemy” for that matter—I challenge you to try accepting him or her as they are.
In doing so, don’t overreact or retaliate. Pause to process your anger and fear. Depersonalize the situation the best you can. Don’t assume that there was an intention to harm you. Consider whether you had any part in what occurred.
In doing these things, note whether you feel calmer, more grounded, less annoyed, more focused on taking care of your needs, and more able to make better decisions.