In psychology, “enemy image” refers to the negative stereotypes that people hold of their opponents. While it’s understandable to see adversaries unfavorably, our views can border on the irrational if we perceive those we don’t like as unconditionally evil.
In workplaces, this phenomenon fuels conflict. If you think a co-worker is the cause of all your problems, then you might assign undue blame to that person. That frees you from taking responsibility for repairing the damage because you see yourself as victim.
Once you cast a colleague as a scapegoat, you may conclude that the best use of your time is to undermine that person’s work product. Instead of focusing on producing results, you may wind up scheming to embarrass your enemy and spreading malicious rumors.
If you’re thinking, “Oh, I’d never do that,” don’t let yourself off the hook so fast. Instead, take two steps to recast foes in neutral or even positive terms:
Draft an “adjective list.” Write all the adjectives that come to mind when you ponder your adversary. Just make sure to think of your enemy as a fully dimensional human being, not a stick figure who embodies evil.
If after five minutes your list consists of entirely negative descriptions, reassess your perception. Force yourself to include at least a few positive adjectives for balance. Even the most formidable opponents possess some admirable traits.
Make civil overtures. Break down barriers by spending a few minutes chatting with your adversary about a “safe” topic. Establish a base of agreement and empathize with the person’s viewpoint. That can help you develop a fairer, more complete understanding of what makes the person tick.