7 steps to better collaboration

Image from Deposit Photos, copyright ‘olechowski’

  1. See the situation through their eyes
  2. The same situation can be perceived very differently depending on our perspective. Picture what’s going on for the other person – what’s at stake for them? We can assume – wrongly – what their aims are. What positive intentions do they have?

  3. Be clear on what you care about
  4. Ask yourself what really matters to you in this situation. Do you want to nail the deadline? Is quality what matters most to you? Are values at stake here, such as creativity, autonomy or professionalism?

  5. Use “we” and “us”
  6. Mind your language when there’s a lot at stake and you need to stay at the table to collaborate. Getting into the blame game won’t help anyone. ‘You’ and ‘I’ can turn into ‘us v them’ language. Ensure ‘we’ refers to both parties; the problem is shared and no blame is assigned.

  7. Identify what’s important to the other party
  8. Make the distinction between someone’s concerns (what they care about) and their proposed course of action (often referred to as their ‘position’ in negotiation and conflict management texts). Both parties can fall into the trap of arguing about positions before establishing what the underlying concerns are. When the focus is on positions it may be possible to meet a compromise, but it’s more likely to result in one party winning at the other’s expense (win:lose).

  9. Ask the right questions
  10. Avoid a barrage of “why did you x?” and “haven’t you y?” questions if you seek to truly collaborate. Indeed, avoid a barrage full stop. Interrogation isn’t collaboration. You need to identify and explore the issues and concerns. “Why?” can be too challenging or confrontational; so use other question forms to find out why, such as ‘”how..…?”, “what…?” and “when…?’”

  11. Say “and” instead of “but”
  12. This small yet significant step can make a big difference. “You want top quality but I’m worried about the budget” sounds very different to, “You want top quality and I am worried about the budget”. In the former example, the two concerns sound incompatible; in the latter they can be entirely compatible. The problem being discussed becomes mutual and a shared solution is more likely.

  13. Listen to understand, not to respond
  14. When we are listening to what the other person is saying in order to respond, or retort, we’re not collaborating – we’re heading for conflict. The conversation becomes like a hostile exchange of volleys in a tennis match. Instead, really listen – which takes a great deal of cognitive resource, such as watching, hearing, observing, noting – to better understand the other party’s concerns.


You may also find this blog post useful: ‘Collaboration: overrated or misunderstood?’


Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available now on Amazon, and ‘The Feedback Book’, due out in September.


Image from Deposit Photos, copyright ‘olechowski’

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