How to Succeed in a Collaborative Company, Part 2

My last piece focused on the importance of monitoring your intentions, asking open questions, listening deeply and cultivating curiosity. Today I continue our series with four more ways to succeed in a collaborative company. 

5. Suspend Judgment and Allow a More Complex Picture to Form.

A close cousin to curiosity, suspending judgment means avoiding putting people or ideas into a box. One thing I’ve noticed about most people who have a reputation for being a bull in a china shop–or for not being collaborative–is they form binary judgments.  People are competent or incompetent, trustworthy or not…friend or foe. Ideas are either good, or bad.

This world-view can be valuable when quick decisions are needed, but it can be destructive if it closes down your ability to take in additional information. Collaboration requires us to avoid simplistic labels.  For example, if you quickly decide that someone is incompetent, it’s much less likely that you will try to work with them or help them improve. You might also miss the strengths that they do have.  

To be collaborative, you need to take in and hold a more nuanced, complex picture.  A colleague may be very weak in some areas, but strong in others.  An idea may be unworkable, but driven from positive intent. Or perhaps part of the idea can work.

Suspending judgment and seeing the complexity of what’s in front of you prevents you from becoming dismissive, and stops you from closing your mind. It also enables you to take the next step, which is to acknowledge the positive before expressing concerns or disagreement.

6. Acknowledge the Good.

If you’re able to maintain curiosity and suspend judgment, to see shades of gray in someone’s ideas or their strengths and weaknesses, then you’ll be able to find something positive or collegial to say before you express disagreement.

Collaboration requires us to avoid simplistic labels.

This is useful because it can help the person listen instead of becoming defensive: “I think we’re trying to get to the same place, and I like X, Y, and Z about your idea. Having said that, I think a different approach would work better. Let me share another point of view….”

In a collaborative company, acknowledging the positives is just good communications hygiene. It means that you care about the relationship, about the person, and that you see the good. It doesn’t mean you’re beating around the bush, being manipulative or inauthentic—which is exactly how that kind of communication might be interpreted in a more top-down, direct company. In a collaborative company it means you’re a team player, that you’re trustworthy, a good partner.

7. Be Transparent to the Extent Possible.

Good collaboration is based on trust, and one way to build trust is to be more open.  Of course, you won’t be able to be open about everything all the time, nor should you be.  But there’s often leeway in how transparent you can be.  One way to lower trust is to develop a reputation for being someone who holds their cards very close to their chest, or has hidden agendas. Raise trust by being more transparent.

It’s easier to be transparent if your focus is to build high-trust relationships.

It’s easier to be transparent if your focus is to build high-trust relationships, and if you see the good in others and their ideas. For another angle on transparency, see my blog To Increase Your Executive Presence, Be Authentic.

8. Develop A More Collaborative Vocabulary.

Like “we,” other words and phrases signal collaboration. For example, I often advise people to substitute “and” instead of “but” when disagreeing with others. If you tell someone the reasons you appreciate their idea, and then say “…But we can’t do it because…”  the word “but” tends tends to cancel out everything positive that you’ve said. Also, you’ll want to use language that acknowledges your colleague:

  • “You raise several good issues…and I have a different viewpoint.”
  • “I hear your point.  May I share a different way of thinking about this…”
  • “I think I see where you are headed…from my perspective and I think from the perspective of my team, that might not be workable…”
  • “What I appreciate is that you’re trying to improve efficiency, which I agree is needed.  I have a different view on how we ought to do that…”

Phrases like these go a long way towards helping others realize that even though you disagree you still hold them in respect.  Also, try to disagree with the idea, not the person.  If you can depersonalize ideas as you discuss them, you’re less likely to offend others.

In blog three we’ll wrap up with four more points to help you be more collaborative—including some behavior you surely will want to avoid.