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What our workplace enemies reveal about us

Difficult life challenges make people stronger, if and when they are overcome. The same goes for acrimonious relationships in the workplace. It doesn’t matter how hardened you are, interacting with a difficult colleague on a daily basis causes discomfort. For some, it’s like showing up to work every day with a thorn in your side and a knife in your back.

The truth is these workplace ‘enemies’ are an invaluable opportunity for professional growth. By putting in the ground work, and considering nature of the conflict you have with a colleague, you can better understand yourself, move past old blocks, and position yourself for success.

What our workplace enemies reveal about us

A serious conflict with another person can mean one of two things:

  1. You’ve identified a quality or behaviour in the other person that mirrors a quality or behaviour you dislike within yourself. In Jungian terms, this is a ‘shadow’ – a disowned part of ourselves we reject. People that exhibit our rejected qualities or behaviours really push our buttons.
  2. You identify a quality in someone that you want but lack. Hence we arrive back to the personal shadow of rejecting yourself for not being good enough; another ‘button pusher’.
An effective motto worth embracing

Workplace enemies reveal your greatest challenges – your shadows, your fears and your success blockers. Your conflict with them is a direct manifestation of what is unresolved within yourself. In effect, enemies act like a beacon at sea, shining light on dangers within ourselves.

This might make you want to throw up – but learn to adopt the motto of ’love thy enemy’. They can help you to skip years of therapy and jump straight to the solution that stands in the way of your success. They are ridiculously effective and resolute in their efforts. We cannot ignore them.

How can you learn from your enemies?
  1. Think about the qualities of your nemesis. Label the shadow. What behaviours about this person really irk you? What aspects of them impact you the most?
  2. Now identify whether the behaviour that’s causing tension does or does not exist within yourself. Be specific and direct here. This will feel uncomfortable. You might need outside help or reflection from a friend or trusted colleague.
  3. How does that impede your ability to perform in your work? How does this same behaviour (or lack of it) prevent you from moving forward?
  4. If you were to move past this block, what would your career or business look like?
  5. What are you going to do about resolving it? Work through strategies. This is a deep question, especially if this shadow is complex and has been around for a long time. Seek some help from books, coaches or therapy work. You will know you have resolved it when a) you don’t feel triggered by your workplace enemy any longer, b) you can let go of blame and no longer project on them, and c) you feel empowered and grateful for the experience.

This doesn’t mean you need to be best friends with that person. You may still think they are a jerk, but they just fail to trigger you anymore, and that feeling of a frustration, anger and offense disappears. By reaching the end of this rocky road with integrity, you will open up the next door to your success.

About the author

Debbie Pask is a business coach specialising in mindfulness, purpose and value. She has a background in board-level advertising, Meditation and Reiki, and is the author of ‘Zenful Business: 11 Models for Flow and Peak Performance at Work’.

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Debbie Pask

Debbie Pask

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