Sometimes the biggest block to collaboration is the extent to which we make it easy for others to understand and engage with what it is we want to achieve. The perceptual chasm between you and those around you can be reduced or removed if we adopt a couple of straightforward principles. In short they are:
- Be clear about what you want to achieve
- Be prepared to let go
- Communicate for collaboration
Be clear about what you want to achieve
This sounds easy enough, but I’ve often found when resolving collaboration conflicts that the initiating person or group can’t clearly articulate what it is they want to achieve in the first place! Many times I’ve found that resistance to collaborate exists around this very basic issue. Think of this way. When it comes to seeking collaboration, what you are really seeking is that they contribute something towards achieving an objective. Skills, knowledge, experience or time, it doesn’t matter; most people are reluctant to give up anything, or change the way they do something, without knowing why they are doing it or what’s in it for them. So this first principle is about stripping away any ambiguity and being clear about:
- What you want to achieve
- Why you want to achieve it
- How you want to achieve it
- What’s in it for them
At the very least, be clear on ‘what’ you want to achieve and remember if you can’t explain it, they won’t get it – and neither will you!
Be prepared to let go
You want people to embrace your reason for collaboration irrespective of their bias when it comes to organisational politics or their different schools of thought. Many leaders have learnt the hard way that trying to appeal to all the different perspectives that exist is an instant killer of collaboration. This is because the focus falls immediately to addressing different perceptions, which can only ever really be effective at a superficial level. If this is happening then it’s also likely that this is how you are thinking about the reason for collaboration. Underpinning all this is the most serious issue – and that is that you cannot control what other people think or perceive.
So what’s the answer? Let go!
- Let go of the need to please everyone – just be clear about what you want to achieve (see the above point)
- Let go of your own biases – take a neutral position that is inclusive of all comers
- Let go of any thoughts of ‘winning over’ – aim for ‘working with’ or even better – ‘winning with’
Communicate for collaboration
Don’t just think about ‘what’ you have to say – the way you say it is equally important. Use language that encourages inclusivity and reinforces collaboration at every turn; words and phrases such as:
- We, Our, Us
- How can we…
- If we can…
- I’m wondering…what do you think?
A collaborative relationship can be undone before it even begins if there is no consistency between saying that you want to collaborate and then using a whole stack of “I” statements. Naturally, it’s important to seal your commitment by acting in a collaborative manner that reinforces your use of collaborative language. So be conscious of the congruency between the way you are thinking about the need for collaboration, the words you use to influence others to get involved and the extent to which you are actually behaving collaboratively yourself.
Collaboration is achievable; but it’s also important to set both you and your collaboration partners up for success from the very beginning. And if you were to only practice these three steps, then you’d go a long way to achieving a win-win outcome, based on a collaborative start.