Collaboration – What’s the Secret?

The secret to collaboration is … wait for it … resilience.

Being resilient means holding on to an emotional state in which your heart and your brain are coherent, your IQ is higher, and you let go of the subtle sabotaging behaviours of the ego.

The antithesis to collaboration is defensiveness, and for anyone who says they never get defensive, you’re dreaming (unless you’re Eckhart Tolle or some other enlightened dude). Tell a family member or romantic partner that you’re never defensive and your delusion will be swiftly shattered.

Defensiveness is the reason that genuine collaboration is almost non-existent. Even where there is an intention to collaborate, most people find the actual doing too challenging.

The obvious question is WHY? If compromise is equivalent to the equation 1 + 1 = 1.5 whereas collaboration is more like 1 +1 = 3 or 30 or 300, why aren’t we all experts at it?

The answer is that defensiveness is the automatic response for almost everyone when their ideas are challenged. In contrast, collaboration requires vulnerability and the non ownership of ideas – the polar opposite to being defensive. Vulnerability can be tough if you feel like a fraud, are worried about judgement, or need to win to get significance. Resilience is the secret to getting past these road blocks.

Here are 6 simple ideas that will help you build resilience, get past the road blocks of the ego, and collaborate successfully:

1. Create Safety

History reveals that humans work best together when in crisis or selflessly pushing toward a common purpose. Perhaps there is no better example than among emergency services teams on duty or armed services personnel in combat. Acts of bravery for each other and the community are common. If you ask individuals within those groups ‘Why?’, the common answer is ‘They’d do the same for me’. There is a deep sense of trust and safety within the group.

Safety is to collaboration what water is to a sunflower. Create safety within your team to express bold ideas and watch them grow.

2. Set an Intention

Collaboration requires a giving up of ideas and personal positions. That will never happen unless all collaborators set an intention to give up ownership of their ideas to reach something that will be greater than all the parts. When it comes to collaboration, everyone wins or nobody does.

3. Name your Defensive Strategy

What do you do when you are defensive? There are as many strategies as there are people. Once you work out what yours is, tell the people you plan to collaborate with and give them permission to give you some feedback. If you’re defensive, you’re not at your best in every sense and you become the reason the collaboration will fail.

To help you out, here is a non-exhaustive list of classic behaviours to alert you that you’re defensive:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Speaking louder or faster
  • Giving orders or making demands
  • Belittling others
  • Getting quiet, tuning out
  • Feeling hot, embarrassment, can’t think, mind goes blank
  • Playing victim
  • Blaming, judging
  • Making it personal
  • Deflecting with humour
  • Tapping, fidgeting, teeth grinding, jaw tightening….

4. Detach from the Outcome

Now for the crux of the problem – a rejection of your idea is not a rejection of you. Sounds obvious, but everyone falls into this trap. You own your ideas and when they are challenged, it’s personal. Unconsciously, you slip into your sympathetic nervous system, your heart coherence decreases and you lose your ability to think expansively and communicate effectively. As you soon as you do, you influence everyone around you to do the same.

In short, the triggers for this egoic response can be summarised as follows:

  • You feel your expertise, proficiency, authority or significant is directly or indirectly challenged
  • You are being judged and it looks bad for you
  • You are not being valued or respected
  • You are moving into areas where there is too much unknown
  • The outcome will limit your autonomy
  • Someone else is winning and you’re not
  • We haven’t done it before, etc.

5. Engage your Heart and then your Mind

If you want to think better, engage your heart. Defensiveness lives in your sympathetic nervous system and engaging your heart is the way out. It’s a simple process that I’ve explained before, but in short get out of your head for 30 seconds, breath from your heart, and feel feelings of gratitude and appreciation. This builds heart and brain coherence, changes the chemical mix in the body and brain, and moves you into the parasympathetic nervous system. Your defensiveness will ease and when you re-engage your mind, collaboration can continue.

6. Take a Break

If you get stuck, get up and get out. Do whatever it takes to come back to yourself and release the defensiveness you feel. Collaboration is a growing process for ideas, and often there are growing pains. So give yourself and everyone else in the collaboration permission to exit and clear their minds if the the need arises.

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