Mike felt the tingle of revelation. Then the opposing thud of self-recrimination. ‘But I already knew that’, he said. ‘I can’t believe I’m just now figuring it out.’

That sure sounds like an insight!

Mike wanted to shift the quality of a couple of relationships he had with his peers. It had been on his mind for some time. He’d committed to ‘doing something about it’, initiating these important conversations. Yet, the conversations were still on the ‘to do’ list.

The insight came as we reviewed what he needed to do to lighten the workload and relieve himself of some of the pressure. He knew that these relationships were not just taking up his time in work-arounds and fix-its, but also they were draining his emotional energy. Same thoughts spinning around the brain. Interrupting sleep. You know how it goes….

The revelation was that Mike didn’t have to have a ‘difficult conversation’ to make a big difference to these relationships.

It was certainly an option. But a tough one for him. Hence the avoidance.

A way to channel his motivation more successfully was to show up in the relationships in a different way. That would help him overcome the block of taking action and relieving the sense of threat. That was in his control.

To change up his behaviour, he needed to question himself more rigorously. What he did in meetings, what he leaned into, and what he avoided, had as much power to change the dynamics as confronting his peers to tell them what was wrong. By critiquing himself, he could become a living instrument for collaboration.

And Mike could also generously give his colleagues the benefit of the doubt. He could trust that they wanted the best outcomes and would be prepared to do things differently. He had no evidence to believe otherwise.

And he could get the ball rolling. Perhaps he could reset the dynamics, and they would all win.

How critiquing yourself can help you be a better collaborator

Most people think too narrowly about collaboration, according to Francesca Gino in a recent Harvard Business Review article.

We think of it as a VALUE, when we should think of it as a SKILL. This is such a helpful reframe.

Gino proposes a psychological approach. She says it’s our mindset that matters most.

We are generally too individualistic, too status oriented. Too much individualism leads to competition and makes collaboration much harder. It reduces respect for others and this increases our distrust of their actions and motives. We are less open to their ideas, less willing to adjust to their suggestions.

Mike used Gino’s checklist to adjust his mindset:

  • How well do you keep your ego in check and really listen to others?
  • How do you show empathy and seek to understand others’ perspectives?
  • How good are you at giving constructive, purpose-oriented feedback?
  • Are you prepared to both lead and follow, and let the circumstances dictate which will be the bigger contribution?
  • Stay on point in discussion, cut through distractions?
  • Go for win:win

This is a great checklist for critiquing yourself to be a better collaborator …while also helping others do the same.

This also sounds pretty much like a coaching mindset to me! Vulnerability, empathy, humility and appreciation frames coach presence. The six actions on the checklist + the right presence sets up a magical context for peers to collaborate.

The work that I was doing with Mike and his organisation led to facilitating coaching circles. In the coaching circles, peers coach each other. When the checklist + presence were active for all circle members, the conversations were powerful – warm, generous, connective, insightful.

When attention is focused on collaboration in these ways, the magic happens. What’s stopping us from doing more of it?

In our busy complex world, speaking in full sentences, following one line of thought through to its conclusion, and being patient to allow others to fully express their thoughts can seem like a lost art.

There’s way too much distraction. To collaborate well with others we need to quieten that noise. One simple way to improve our mindset when we work with others is to stay on point.

Are you too distractible to be a good colleague?

What’s the price you’re paying for your distractibility?

One of the tactics I encourage in my coaching circles is to ‘follow the line of questions’. To listen to what the first person says, and each circle member to follow through with that theme before you move to the next theme. It’s challenging!

Cate has reflected several times on this. She’s trying to pay attention to the line. She’s also paying attention to what the coachee is saying and to the advice-giver in her own mind, and then gets ‘brain-fry’. It’s a lot to process. Yet, being able to process these three things is critical to running better collaboration.

There are many levels of processing we need to do when we meet with others. The question is how to be in best service to the collaboration outcome you seek.

Conversations with random questions or where each person tries to outsmart the last don’t work so well.

To inspire a collaboration mindset, and to reduce distractibility, focus on

  • calming your mind to shut out distractions
  • listening with compassion to understand what is being offered
  • building on what others say to make something bigger

Which of these three would best help you to reduce your distractibility and be a better colleague?

When you stop being distractible you can trigger insight

When we are fully present in a conversation we have the greatest chance to get the benefit of all the gloriously different minds. That’s when we can move from shallow questions, how to get from A to B, to deeper exploration, are we really at A, what about C, what is it about this question that holds us back?

This is much more likely to get you to an ‘aha’ moment.

Don’t skim stones, dive in to help achieve insight.



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