Keep Your Friends Close. . . Your Enemies Closer?

You know the old saying, keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer?

A new study has found that encouraging adversaries to have more interpersonal contact to find common ground may work on occasion, but not necessarily in the U.S. Senate, according to new research, as reported at newswise.com.

 Researchers studied the interactions among U.S. senators from the 1970s to the 2000s.

Senators either moved closer together or further apart in their voting behavior as a function of their political identities and how much contact they had with each other. This pattern was especially pronounced when contact occurred in Senate committees that were more divided.

“Conventional wisdom says interpersonal contact between people will foster collaboration and consensus,” says co-author Sameer B. Srivastava, assistant professor, Haas Management of Organizations Group at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “We found that increasing physical contact between people who have opposing and public political identities can instead promote divergence of attitudes or behavior. This tendency is further amplified in environments involving high conflict, which makes political identities more salient.”

The authors say the U.S. Senate is an “apt setting for the study of interaction, identity, and influence” because senators have highly visible political identities and are continually seeking to influence each other through interaction. Researchers contend that their findings also have implications in corporate organizations with oppositional political identities that are seeking to bridge differences between polarized groups.

For example, they explain, “Post-merger integration, particularly following a contested takeover, can produce oppositional identities in a very public setting. In such cases, it may help to move interactions into more private settings and find common ground on less divisive issues before tackling the more controversial ones.”

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