Some collaborations can be hard but it doesn’t always have to be.
At a most basic level, we all do it, maybe not as often as we should and maybe not always with good intentions. Sometimes we fall short of our desired outcomes but we all know collaborating is something we have to navigate at some point in life unless you are stranded on some remote island with no other human being or animal.
But despite this how much attention do you pay towards how you collaborate. Most of us know that to get anywhere in life and be successful it is something we have to do and can’t avoid. But let’s face it, collaboration with others can sometimes be hard and just difficult, to say the least. As a consequence, you either avoid it and walk away and be that ‘lone ranger’. Or you unknowingly sabotage it, whilst blaming the other party for their difficult ways and uncompromising efforts. How many times have you found yourself wanting to collaborate and work with others but find yourself focusing on the other person’s deficiencies? Or you find yourself behaving in such a way where you withhold or try and control the sharing of information?
If the answer to these questions is yes and often, maybe its time to think about how and who you collaborate with. It’s true that sometimes we don’t have a choice, people and situations are thrust upon us because of work, family and the communities we are part of. But all of this does not have to be hard work and something we dread. If we can get our collaborations to work well and find that synergy. Then what we can achieve is limitless. We all know variations of the phrase.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Which is so true on many levels, because of the benefits collaboration brings with expanding your knowledge, sharing the burden, introducing a different perspective and more.
You see most of us most of the time want to be seen as a team player, it is a great skill to have. Even if we are leading or merely a team player, collaborating and team play is integral to maintaining the status quo and moving forward.
Why is it so hard and why should we look at how we collaborate.
At the heart of collaboration are people relationships and our communication within those relationships. Understanding and mastering these principles is key to negotiating the conflicts that should and will inevitably arise. So if you want to improve how you collaborate here are five suggestions on areas to look at.
1. Your intent — Like any relationship how you approach from the onset, sets the tone. If your motives and intentions are clear and based on openness and cooperation it will inform, influence and guide your actions. Rather like a job interview, your chances of negotiating obstacles that are thrown at you and ultimately achieving success are increased if you approach the interview with a positive mindset.
If you are collaborating for selfish reasons, for example, to solely promote yourself or gain a competitive advantage it will undoubtedly affect your relationship. You may think you are treating the other person fairly and with the respect they deserve. But, in reality, you are doing this from a narrow and defensive perspective. Unintentionally because of your motives you may actually be the cause of the conflict. In a defensive or competitive mode of operation, it is highly likely that you will mainly see the friction in the relationship and view your collaborator through the lenses of a combatant.
With incorrect intentions, if unchecked and unmanaged it can lead to bitter and destructive behaviour from both sides. Take for example what happens in an argument when one party shouts it can sometimes naturally lead to the other party responding by shouting back.
2. Trust — Do you have and do you trust? All healthy and solid relationships are built on trust and with that comes honesty and respect. Are you truthful with your feedback and feelings? Are you able to talk with your collaborators without fear of judgement and fear of how they will respond? If you answered no to any of these, it might be worth looking inward and assessing your values before setting some ground rules and expectations of what you want and expect. This needs to be done in a cooperative way with the notion that it is a two-way activity and compromises will need to be met. Honest and regular feedback is a good way to help build trust and deal with issues as of when they arrive before they escalate into something major.
If all of the above fails and there is no trust, maybe there is no room for collaboration. Perhaps you need to make that difficult choice of cutting your losses and walking away.
3. Accountability — Are you accountable and do you take responsibility for your actions and decisions. When things don’t go as planned do you or your collaborator seek to understand why first or seek to proportion the blame? If the first response is blame or denial then there are trust issues at play in the relationship. Healthy collaboration involves finding creative solutions to any problem or setback to create win-win situations.
In any given situation or problem we always have a choice, sometimes it may not feel this way but the reality is simple. If you are not happy with something you can do one of three things.
Accept It, Change It, or Leave It
If you can’t accept the situation then take responsibility to change it. If you can’t change it then leave it. Eckhart Tolle very simply explains spending time complaining makes you the victim if you do anything other than accept, change or leave it. It is madness!
Effective collaborators recognise this and don’t waste time complaining and looking for ways to proportion the blame. They are self-aware and flexible and understand how they can provide value as well as fit in. After all, would you really want to work with someone who spends all their time blaming others?
4. Communication — The essential ingredient to collaboration and any relationship is good communication. This is a two-sided affair which on the one side means expressing yourself in a positive and clear manner and on the other side actively listening to your partner. When it comes to expressing yourself there are many books and ideas that explain how to communicate effectively using verbal and non-verbal cues such as tone and body language. Communication should be more than just exchanging words and information it involves understanding the emotion and intentions behind the words.
This is where your intent and the other side of communication come into play. By genuinely listening and engaging with your collaborators you learn to empathise and see things from your partners perspective. By actively listening, you learn to understand your partner better, you understand their interests, their fears and ways of dealing with situations.
One of the greatest gifts and compliments we can give anyone is to listen intently. We all at some level want to be heard. If you and your collaborators both do this you will soon discover that you are both working towards common goals.
5. Conflict resolution — Inevitably at some point in any relationship, conflict will arise. This can be a good thing if handled correctly. A collaboration with no conflict may on the surface appear harmonious and unified which is what most of us want. But if this happens all the time it means that there is a lack of diversity of opinion. It means there is a single perspective which everyone constantly agrees with.
Disagreements in any relationship if properly worked through often bring out rigorous debate and understanding. It can enhance creativity as decisions, ideas and options are evaluated which often generates more ideas.
To manage and work through conflicts, good intent and trust between parties is integral. Listening for understanding where you allow the other person to share their thoughts and feelings before you respond makes it easier for you to then get your points across. You may not agree with what they are saying but if you allow them to be heard. The other person is more likely to be receptive of your ideas.
With any collaboration or team, it becomes easier once you are past the initial stages of forming. Bruce Tuckman an educational psychologist, identified the four stages of development that most teams follow to become high performing.
Most collaborations stop at the forming and storming stages which is fine and appropriate in some cases because not all collaborations are meant to or will work. Those that can rumble through to the norming stages and manage and embrace conflict go on to become successful high performing collaborations.
If you can invest in your collaborations as a relationship you want to have and exercise constructive communication it will pave the way for making it less challenging. As with all things, focus on what you can control. If it is meant to be, it will be.