November 8th, 2010
03:57 PM ET

Letters to the President: #658 'Facing friction between friends'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama is traveling in India. It would be so nice to get a postcard. Just saying.

Dear Mr. President,

Few things in life require as much tact, patience, and fortitude as dealing with two people who are your friends but enemies of each other. Every time you plan an outing or barbecue you have to decide which one to include (which means excluding the other) or you have to figure out how to invite them both but keep them in neutral corners like boxers between rounds.

Of course, the reason I bring it up is your travels to India where you are trying to reassure folks that, yes, we are your friends and you can trust us even as we remain friends with your bitter rivals in Pakistan. I'll grant from the get-go that this is a little dicier than arranging a seating chart for a banquet, because usually even if Aunt Sophie can't stand Aunt Theresa, ("It involved a jello salad, your Uncle Malcolm, and a Polaroid. And no I don't want to talk about it!") it’s unlikely that she'll drop a nuclear bomb on the offending relative.

Still, there are basic principles which I find useful in such situations, which may help you in your travels.

First, listen a lot. When people are frightened, angry, or both, they often need the reassurance from their friends that they are, in fact, friends. And nothing says "I'm your pal" better than listening. (Btw, my computer just tried to help me by correcting a typo to "...I'm your owl" which doesn't make nearly as much sense.)

Second, without taking sides, make it clear that you can understand each side. If you can help them understand each other a bit better in the process, so much the better.

Third, let each party know that your friendship with them is not contingent on how you feel about the opposition, that you will strive with every fiber to keep their dispute from poisoning your relationship with each of them.

And fourth, reward, reward, reward each step that either side takes toward better relations; reward with praise, new opportunities, and even more of your friendship.

And if any of this works over there, maybe you can try it with the DC crowd when you get back home. Ha!


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (No Responses)

Comments are closed.