Utilizing Differences to Build Collaboration

In our new book, Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster, my coauthors Jane Ripley, Eunice Parisi-Carew, and I explain the importance of building a culture of collaboration in your organization. Believing true collaboration is the responsibility of every individual, we define five elements each person must consider when accepting their specific role in helping to create that culture.

The UNITE acronym makes these elements easy to remember. Every collaborative leader must be able to Utilize differences; Nurture safety and trust; Involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values, and goals; Talk openly; and Empower themselves and others. Let’s take a closer look at the importance of utilizing differences.

Many people think if a group working together allows differing viewpoints it might create disagreement, which would be a bad thing. However, we believe conflict in collaborative groups is good—as long as discussions stay focused on the issues and disagreements don’t get personal. In fact, conflict can be the basis for breakthrough thinking that leads to revolutionary ideas.

Ask yourself these questions to see if you are a collaborator who makes the most of people’s differences:

  1. Do you believe everyone has something to contribute?
  2. Do you ensure everyone in your group is heard?
  3. Do you actively seek different points of view?
  4. Do you encourage debate about ideas?
  5. Do you feel comfortable facilitating conflict?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, congratulations! You are well on your way to being a first-class collaborator who embraces diverse points of view within your work group. If you answered no to any of them, you know where to begin your journey to effective collaboration.

Organizations operating in today’s global economy have workforces comprising multiple generations with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and temperaments. This guarantees significant disparity among people in almost every work group. The ability to utilize these differences for the greater good will determine the success or failure of your project—and possibly your company. Remember—collaboration begins with you!

Editor’s Note: Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster will be released October 12. Place your pre-order at www.Amazon.com.

We Need to Talk: A 5-Step Process for Leaders

man wearing a suit sitting in a table with clasped handsHave you ever heard the words, “we need to talk” and not felt a little uncomfortable?

In a fast-paced work environment, communication challenges come up every day.  It’s natural for conflict to arise and disagreement to occur, so leaders need the skills to successfully manage emotionally charged conversations and help resolve issues between team members.

To help improve their skills in dealing with challenging conversations, Eryn Kalish, the co-creator of our Challenging Conversations program teaches leaders how to speak up without alienating the other person and how to listen even if they are “triggered” by what they are hearing.

The concepts are easily understandable, explains Kalish, but it is something that’s challenging emotionally to practice. For leaders just getting started, there are five skills represented by the acronym SPEAK that Kalish recommends as a way of becoming comfortable with, and open to, others’ feelings.

S. Stating concerns directly. Speak up in a way that doesn’t alienate other people. Understand how to get at the essence of what’s important.

P. Probing for more information to gain a deeper understanding. Learn how to get more information from someone who might be hesitant to talk. Learn how to gently, but firmly, probe and get somebody to speak out when it is going to serve them and the situation.

E. Engaging others through whole-hearted listening. Be able to listen even when it is uncomfortable. Learn how to work with your reactions so that you can focus and understand what the other person is saying.

A. Attending to body language. Pay attention to body language and be able to spot discrepancies between what you are hearing and what you are seeing. How many times have you been sitting in a meeting when somebody said everything was fine but his or her body language was saying that it is clearly not? Avoid the temptation to say, “Oh, good, everything is ok. Let’s move on.”

K. Keeping forward focused, but only when everybody is ready to move forward. This can be a challenge for leaders with a natural bias for action. Learn to resist the urge to move forward prematurely. In challenging conversations the real issues often don’t come to light at first.

Perhaps the most important thing about using a process like this is teaching a common language and approach that can be used by everyone in your company. Remember to address the issues directly—ignoring them will only make things worse. But using the SPEAK approach will improve communication, trust, and employee engagement. I encourage you to try it out soon to see the positive impact it will have.