When Someone’s Not Listening


The Art of Singular Collaboration

Much has been written about improving collaboration skills.1 Tamm’s 2004 book, Radical Collaboration, focuses on reducing one’s defensiveness as a key component when working together.2 I recommend the book for anyone seeking better interpersonal or organizational effectiveness.

Today’s blog describes what I have termed singular collaboration and is to be used when one’s counterpart is not listening. I chose the word singular to mean both “extraordinary” and “sole”.

To summarize, singular collaboration requires an individual or negotiating team to set up the “collaboration” and then to work within the constraints of their collaboration partner.

Although there is a natural flow in the order of the following checklist, the situation determines when to use a step or not and in what order.

I’ll touch on three of the most challenging steps.

#3. Establish a “shared” vision.

This is definitely the secret sauce. “Shared” is in quotes because it is developed by the active collaborator and is only revealed to the adopted partner indirectly by speech and actions that are promoting the “shared vision”.

To begin the process, shrink your ego. The purpose of singular collaboration is to resurrect a positive influence in an important relationship that otherwise might be lost. The less ego you bring to the situation, the more influence you will have.

For advice on checking your ego at the door, I suggest the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.

To create the “shared vision”, first put yourself in an uncritical mindset and then experience the world from the perspective of your collaborator.

To give a business example, our HMO negotiating team was working with several openly hostile physician groups. We were getting nowhere until we decided to set a unilaterally determined “shared vision”. The vision was to deliver a better contract than they could get anywhere else.

We set the vision unilaterally because the tempers were too short to negotiate mutual terms. After accepting their mindset and its limitations as a given, we began making progress. Just defining the shared vision jump-started our own team’s creativity.

#6. Facilitate partner contributions

Overplaying one’s position is a losing strategy. An attitude that a dominant position is justified because you are acting as the only adult in the room – doesn’t work. The reality is the “shared” vision was necessary for  any possible progress to take first place.

With one’s teenager, the shared vision might be providing a safe space for their explorations into early adulthood. Even if one feels like curtailing their explorations altogether, doing so might give up your best opportunity to keep them safe. “Safe” may be a neutral enough vision to open constructive dialogs.

In the situation with the physician groups noted above, it was key that we kept the shared vision in mind. That meant never compromising on the original terms unless it was clearly better for all parties. The physicians eventually appreciated our bedrock fairness and subsequent negotiations were relatively quick, amicable and productive. We had reached a point where “mutually beneficial” became the active goal for both parties.

It might feel as though initiating a singular collaboration adopts a weak negotiating position. That is wrong-headed. The best negotiating stance is what works, not what feels right.

#14. Persist, reboot, or withdraw

A periodic reassessment of progress is paramount. While the collaboration should be robust enough to withstand expected ups and downs, investing too long in a failing strategy is counterproductive.

As a last effort though, one should consider an in-depth dialog with your counterpart. You might find you’ve built up enough trust that they’re prepared to take a more active collaborative stance.

In summary, singular collaboration gives one the potential for strategic control in what would otherwise be an unmanageable situation.

Breakthrough To Better,

1Collective Impact
2Cultivating Collaboration: Don’t Be So Defensive!


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