Photo by Mike Baird
Reflection by Jim Crissman

My current big writing project is a historical novel. For this sort of composition, one constructs a truthful framework from what is known about some period in the past, then decorates it with elaborate and plausible fabrications. It is the same technique used for holiday letters and job interviews. Lately, as it turns out, I also happen to be dusting off anecdotes for the latter exercise, as job interviewers have developed a new technique called “targeted selection,” a technique in which your past behavior is used to predict your future. Targeted selectors want stories, and they recognize that the good ones include specifics.

I should be able to do this.

A quick computer search of the targeted selection process provides a score of sample queries. One of the toughest is this: Give an example of a time you turned an adversary into an ally. Humans are such sneaky critters; I suspect I’m mostly unaware of my adversaries. But if you used to be one, and have changed your mind, please drop me a note; I need to know how that happened.

In the meantime, I’m looking, naturally, to the animal world for examples. Any bird hunter knows that you can easily turn a dog into an ally by proving your ability to shoot things. An incredibly loud noise followed by a dead duck falling from the sky really impresses them. Feeding them also works. Our UPS guy keeps a pocket full of dog biscuits in his brown shorts for fearsome bowsers like our neighbor’s giant Rottweiler, which has a bark like the God of Thunder. The biscuit technique definitely charms the savage beast, and it requires only a small raising of the ante to arrive at the human practice of buying the targeted adversary a drink. Intoxication breeds great affection; a fact readily confirmed by anyone who has ever worn beer goggles. And strict discipline may not exactly breed loyalty, but the threat of imprisonment can very effectively change behavior. The punitively caged dog may not like you much, but at least he acts like he does. Solitary confinement, whether in the cage, the hole, or the cubicle, can do a major number on the boxed-in mind.

Among dogs there are also expressions of dominance, subservience, and even shameless brown nosing that define one’s place in the pack. While I don’t recall either dominating by brute force or rolling on my back and wetting myself at work, I will plead guilty to occasional contrived flattery. I might well have said this, for example: No one could ever carry-off a forehead scorpion tattoo like you, boss.

So, to boil it down, we have our choice of effective methods to turn adversaries into allies: murder, bribery, poisoning, extortion, and lies. A dullard, by contrast, may be tempted to try a steady display of competence, collegiality, and good humor; but this is painfully slow, and the plot line is a real snoozer. It lacks the vital element of dramatic tension—clearly not the stuff of a best-seller. Besides, it may not work on hardened adversaries who just don’t like the cut of your jib. Therefore, I’ve determined that the next time I pick up negative vibrations from co-workers, I will shoot them a duck.

© James W. Crissman, 2011