I like working with people. I believe change can only come through collaboration. – Alain de Botton
Quite by coincidence I’ve been watching the series “The last man in the world” at about the same time as hysteria sweeps the world about the Coronavirus.
The story, in case you aren’t familiar, is about how there is one man left on earth after a virus strikes and… well, the story goes from there.
There interesting thing about this particular virus is not that it’s spreading, but that the information about it is spreading faster than any virus before it.
We are all so connected that once the news started spreading everyone became aware and then started changing behaviour – probably hoarding and stockpiling.
In fact, the supermarkets shelves are showing gaps – and it really looks like people are panicking a little and laying down supplies.
When thing look like they’re going bad we start preparing for the inevitable fallout and all out conflict.
The fact that we regress so quickly to such behaviour tells us that flight or fight is an accurate depiction of our underlying humanity and one or brain’s biggest tasks is to override our evolutionary conditioning.
And it’s hard.
Take collaboration, for example.
You would probably agree that it’s the best way to work with someone else – to find a way to be open and honest and create value for each other.
The reality of work, however, is far from that.
All too often we have misunderstandings and power struggles, politicking and whinging.
While our brains have developed the ability to be rational when we’re in a safe space we still are some way from having the tools we need to help us work better together.
Although you could argue we’ve had them all the time – our ability to listen and talk and draw.
Collaboration is something that has to come from the lack of fear.
If you go into a meeting afraid you’re going to lose your job, afraid you’re going to lose the sale or afraid that you’re going to lose something you have then that fear will permeate everything – and it will make the other person uneasy as well.
It’s like the high pressure salesperson – you can tell desperation and it’s not nice.
When I look at collaboration these days I think you need to get better at doing three things.
First you have to listen.
Whether it’s your kids or coworkers, whether it’s your boss or a customer, the essential skill to develop is the ability to listen.
When you listen you start to get a feeling for the shape of someone else’s thoughts – how they see the world.
To understand them better you ask questions.
Questions help you find the gaps, discover connections and see possibilities.
And then, when you’ve done those two things you can offer suggestions – possibilities for what you could do together.
And you will, in turn, hopefully be listened to and asked questions.
Just like that you’re collaborating.