7 Tips to Court Collaboration
All relationships begin somewhere. At some point in time. Somehow.
We transition from being strangers to friends. From being neighbors to running buddies. From being single to coupled. Relationship transitions are all around us, including in our professional lives.
One relationship transition that’s particularly important in the workplace is the move from being a mere acquaintance to a trusted collaborator. Understanding this process — and understanding how to influence this process — is important for at least two reasons.
First, people who feel socially isolated can benefit emotionally and professionally from increased interpersonal connection and from nurturing an active and engaged social network. Second, collaboration is a critical tool for innovating solutions and scaling impact.
If you’re looking to initiate a collaborative relationship, it would be a mistake to merely hope that good opportunities will kick up or to assume that you’ll be seen as someone with whom others will want to collaborate.
Instead, you need to court collaboration.
Here are seven tips, drawn from research on the psychology of relationships, to help you do so.
We can’t form relationships with people who don’t know we exist. This rather obvious insight makes clear why we must reach out and engage with others if we have any hope of eventually building satisfying and productive collaborations. Comment on others’ LinkedIn posts. Invite input on your ideas. Attend the networking event. Go to the conference. These are all moves that put you on others' radar, a necessary precursor to an eventual collaboration.
2. Be Selectively Attractive
Whether courting romantic partners or collaborators, remember that you neither need, nor want, to appeal to everyone. Your interests, values, opinions and ambitions are things you can put out in the world that will act as social filters. Those who resonate with who you are and what you care about will be drawn in. Others will be pushed away. And that’s A-OK. None of us have the time or energy to build endless collaborations. Spend those precious resources on the most likely relationships.
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3. Signal Interest
People want to collaborate with people they like. One of the best predictors of whether someone likes us is whether they think that we like them. We express liking by signaling interest. Ask non-obvious questions that keep the focus on the person, their ideas and their experiences. Ask if they have any events coming up that you could check. Note that you’d welcome the opportunity to continue the conversation.
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Reciprocally, observe whether they signal interest in you. After a recent call with a potential collaborator, I was certain I would never again spend another minute with him. Why? Because he spent the entire time yammering about his amazing accomplishments, connections and services. He did not express a drop of interest in me or my work. When I tried to engage in a little reciprocal sharing, he interrupted me and started talking about himself. Again.
4. Give Credit
When talking about your work, mention the other people who made it possible. If someone compliments you on the data visualizations in your report, mention how grateful you are to the designer for all her creativity and responsiveness to the team's ideas. When you highlight the role others have played in your successes, you tell prospective collaborators that you have a history of working closely with others, that you are able to see and celebrate others’ contributions, and that you’re not one of those jerks who steals credit for others’ work. In other words, beyond doing right by your current and past collaborators, you’re telling your prospective collaborators that you will do the same for them.
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5. Be Rewarding
We like being around people whose presence is rewarding. If you’re looking to court collaboration, look for opportunities to bring value to those with whom you might someday want to collaborate. Be kind and fun. Offer to serve as a sounding board to workshop their new model. Share a favorite resource that might help with a challenge they mentioned. Ask if they’d like you to introduce them to someone in your network. Smile. Give eye contact. Be friendly.
6. Demonstrate Trust
During the very early stages of a developing collaborative relationship, look for opportunities to demonstrate to the other person that you trust them. One of my current collaborators did this brilliantly. During our very first call, he mentioned that he had developed a proprietary assessment of team functioning. I mentioned that I’d welcome the opportunity to learn more. Subsequently, he emailed me the full tool. I saw this as an act of trust, knowing he believed I would hold his good work in confidence and would engage constructively with his ideas. And I returned the gesture by sending him a confidential pre-print of my book. Other ways to demonstrate trust include asking for feedback on a half-baked idea, holding disclosures in confidence, and holding the other person’s interests on par with your own.
7. Start Small
When it comes time to actually do something together, start small. Even if someone wants to work with you, they’re unlikely to be able to say yes to a big, complex or lengthy opportunity right out of the gate. Why? Because they likely already have a lot on their plate and, because they haven’t yet had a chance to experience you as a trustworthy and competent collaborator, the risk-reward calculus favors a no. Thus, start small. Co-write a blog post. Create a shared resource. Co-host a webinar.
Rather than leaving your collaboration building to chance, these tips can help you gracefully court the collaborations you need to deepen connection and drive impact.
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About the Author
Dr. Deb Mashek, PhD is an experienced business advisor, professor, higher education administrator, and national nonprofit executive.