Collaboration is more than just dividing up tasks.
As a result of the pandemic, more of us are expected to be working in virtual or semi-virtual workplaces with many meetings taking place online. How we talk to each other has always been important for developing shared understanding and respect and trust among collaborators. It will be even more so as we transition to predominantly online interactions permanently.
With the shift to virtual, it is especially important that we hone all our communication skills and awareness of how our words impact others. Especially in the context of collaboration, shared understanding and identity, and feelings of safety (based on respect and trust) serve as key determinants of success.
Whether your role is coordinator, facilitator, or team or network member, you can have a positive influence by the way you communicate. As we attend to our communication in collaboration, here are three skills to put into practice and to model for others because of the positive impact they will have:
1. Be Open and Open-Minded: Stay curious about individuals and the context in which they come to collaborate. Find ways to foster non-work reasons for people to connect. Research suggests that non-work discussions increase the likelihood of a shared identify. When appropriate, share information about yourself to deepen the connection with others.
Demonstrate your openness by:
- Creating space in agendas that allow for less structured exchange or within whatever collaboration platform you are using.
- Encouraging others by using phrases such as “tell me more about…”, “what would that look like if…”, etc.
- Ensuring that all voices are heard without judgment; in our rush to get things done we sometimes move quickly into evaluating ideas that can leave some feeling “shut down” and ultimately less engaged and hindering a truly shared identity.
2. Practice Active Listening: Create space for everyone to express themselves and be a good listener. Clear your mind of distractions and enter the conversation with intention and focus. Be attentive, but relaxed. On screen, make sure your video camera is at the correct angle and you have proper lighting. By creating the internal and external conditions to be a good listener, you demonstrate that you are fully present for the speaker – the foundation of good communication.
Active listening keeps the focus on the speaker; stay non-judgmental and refrain from responding with your own opinion or experience.
Encourage the exploration of ideas and deeper understanding by:
- Giving verbal or visual cues to let who is speaking know you are listening
- Paraphrasing to check for understanding
- Asking open-ended questions to uncover assumptions, areas of agreement, and bring clarity to ideas
- Being empathetic to build connection
- Allowing for silence
3. Foster Creativity and Enthusiasm: How you communicate and interact with others sets the tone and conditions for effective collaboration. Creativity and innovation occur when there is a wide range of viewpoints and perspectives for people to consider and incorporate into their shared understanding. When individuals feel included and respected, they are more likely to feel safe to share new ideas or to disagree.
Foster creativity and enthusiasm by:
- Giving people time to jot down their ideas before discussing them — we all think and process information differently
- When possible, using pictures or diagrams to express ideas and as discuss starters
- Acknowledging and celebrating successes
- Avoiding blame when things go wrong and instead using it as a way to develop group learning instead
- Showing appreciation to others for their contributions or to the group as a whole
- Modulate your tone and expression to keep it lively and maintain interest, including bringing a sense of playfulness when appropriate.
Next time you meet with your network, try a new way of communicating and see what happens. Be intentional about how you use language and the ways you interact with others to be a positive influence on the group. Speaking the “language of collaboration” just may take your network or team’s work to a whole new level!
-Peter Lane, ICL Consultant: peter(at)icl(dot)org