Collaboration through (really) listening
Collaboration happens when one party listens to another:
- Unconditionally – without dismissing or having opinions about what’s being said.
- Without interrupting.
- As a result of your asking questions (because you’re curious) about what you’ve just heard.
- With respect.
- Accepting as ‘true’ what the speaker is saying from their perspective.
Could it really be that simple..?
The first practical step to improving collaborative working is agreement by both parties to really listen to each other’s perceptions of the situation. Without this early agreement by both parties collaboration will never happen. A good example of the opposite of this is where two people are set up with opposing views and asked to express them, e.g. under the guise of good radio, the ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4; so-called Middle East ‘negotiations’; debating societies. Under these circumstances collaboration is not on the agenda. Getting your point of view heard and rammed home as forcibly as possible is. Win/lose is the name of the game. Win/win = ‘us’, isn’t.
The basis of this key point is simple. Lack of collaboration is principally caused by a difference of perception about history – events that have happened in the past – and what we or they have ‘made it mean’. Truth is not the issue. Interpretation of what happened is. So if two (or more) parties come together to present their ‘truth’ there will be as many versions of ‘the truth’ as there are groups.
Never in the history of mankind have groups with differing views come together to work out a solution based on the view solely of one participating group. No group has ever presented a ‘truth’ to which all the others have conceded by admitting, “Oh how unwise of us to have held these views (for so long); now we see the wisdom of your viewpoint. From now on we will support you on this issue unreservedly; we apologise.” We are simply not wired like this.
Three steps to collaboration
- Set up carefully and mentored well for compliance, creating a space where all parties can be listened to – fully – opens up possibilities that were hitherto thought impossible. Authentic access to others’ mindsets is also often extraordinary, and enables breakthroughs and transformation to happen.
- Having really listened to ‘them’, get clear and agree with all involved parties what the objectives of the discussion are. Astonishingly, this is often missed out in many discussions. Reflect on what you think about those objectives.
- Then get clear (and constantly remind yourself throughout the process) on your (personal) intentions– how you intend to behave. Reflect on what you think about those intentions. Do not rush this. If things go wrong during the collaborative process, it’s because you broke this promise.
- What breakthroughs of collaborative thinking or doing are you aware of that were ‘simply not possible’ before they happened?
- What do you believe was the ‘listening’ that facilitated that breakthrough?
- Thinking of the ‘them’ in your (work) life, what would you need to accept/let go of about their version of history?
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