How to Collaborate With Others: Powerful scripting to help you partner with customers and team members

Of all the blogs/articles I’ve ever written, this is the article I am most excited to share.

This issue “hit home” for me when meeting with my therapist years ago, Dr. Scott Bennett in Wilmington, NC. The strategy and scripting I share today, I attribute to him.

Dr. Bennett understood people, and he understood himself. I don’t believe that I’ve ever met a more self-aware human being. Every session was a golden moment of collaboration. They weren’t always comfortable, but they were almost always effective.

As a result, not only did Dr. Bennett teach me this script and the basic communication principles behind it. He showed me how it works in each session.

No “how to” matters more than how to collaborate with others. Only through healthy collaboration can anyone reach emotional intelligence and personal breakthroughs of the highest order.

To delight customers effectively, you must collaborate with them. And to partner with your team members, you must collaborate with them.

Ironically, this approach to collaboration will not save every sale or interpersonal relationship. But this approach will save the right ones. How to collaborate with others is never more valuable as when you are listening the needs of customers, then collaborating with them and your team members on the perfect solution to their problem.

What is Collaboration?

For the purpose this article, I will define collaboration as follows…

Collaboration is two or more different perspectives working together to solve a problem.

Meeting two people that think exactly the same way in all things is highly unusual, maybe even impossible. The married couple moving about life in perfect harmony would probably tell you that they collaborated rigorously for years to get to that point (and probably still do when you and I aren’t looking!).

In contrast, mentally-inbred groups (we could call them religious cults or political extremists) actively cut off and separate from views not conforming to their own. Their views are extreme in that they are unrealistic: they only allow room for a select “faithful few.”

Collaboration between multiple perspectives is more important than ever. The Society for Human Resource Management noted that businesses embracing greater diversity are 15%-35% “more likely to outperform those that don’t.”

Bringing together diverse demographics, ideologies, ethnicities, and genders enhances productivity and innovation.

When Do You Need to Collaborate?

When there is conflict.

There is conflict when your customer has a problem.

Other times, conflict occurs when team members can’t see “eye to eye.”

Occasionally, it seems that customers are unhappy no matter what you do (even though you and your team did everything “right”).

Not all conflict meriting collaboration is interpersonal or the fault of someone within the group. Often, conflict arises – not out of a moral sense of right or wrong – but from an intuition that something will be effective or ineffective.

If your version of collaboration is telling someone something and expecting them to accept it, then you will only serve uninformed customers with the help of uninformed team members. This might work for a time. But you should pray that market conditions never change. You will want to actively purge everyone in your organization that dissents, too. In other words, this is not collaboration. Businesses that operate this way will struggle to achieve any kind of meaningful growth.

How to Collaborate (the script)

This script works in personal and professional relationships. It works with clients and employees.

Also, the script itself is only a guide. It is the principles behind the scripted phrases that are non-negotiable to healthy collaboration.

“If I understand you correctly, you are saying that…”

Underlying principle: Listen in a way that convinces the other person that you are listening.

If you really are listening, but the other person doesn’t believe that you are listening, then the speaker will be suspicious during the entire conversation. Generally speaking, you should look into their eyes and be able to repeat back to the speaker what they just said.

When repeating back what the speaker said, allow the speaker to correct you. They could have chosen their words carefully, and they will be extra sensitive to you putting words into their mouth (perhaps unintentionally).

Or, they may hear you use the words they used and realize that what they said came out wrong. Be patient with them as they try again. This can be especially challenging if the speaker is prone to use lots of words or has communication difficulties.

You must believe that what they have to say matters.

Fight every inclination to take personally anything the speaker says. This will distract you and give other people in the room the impression that you are self-absorbed, unable to empathize with their problem/perspective.

Interrupt only on the rarest occasions. If you must interrupt, be apologetic and explain why it is necessary for you to interrupt them.

“I can see that this is very important to you, and it is important to me that you know that I understand where you are coming from.”

Underlying principle: Validate the other person.

Validation occurs when the other person knows that you care about them and see the merits in their perspective, even if their conclusions are misguided.

Note: Misguided conclusions are not the real issue here. The real issues are the original problem, the emotions that the problem evoked, and the determination of the people involved to solve the problem.

Focus on the problem and the pain arising from it. In time, you can demonstrate better conclusions for the speaker.

But if you do this too early, then you shut down the speaker and possibly miss some very vital information you need to help the situation. The solution is always to validate the speaker.

Once they feel validated, then they will be ready to move forward.

To validate someone’s feelings is first to accept someone’s feelings – and then to understand them – and finally to nurture them. To validate is to acknowledge and accept a person. Invalidation, on the other hand, is to reject, ignore, or judge.

Be vulnerable enough with the other person to show them that you are an avid learner of their perspective. You are hungry for new information about them and about the problem.

When appropriate, show positive excitement about the merits of their point of view. Also if appropriate, take responsibility for the ways you may have played a role in their current problem.

On the other hand, if you are excited to respond to what they are saying (instead of excited to digest what they are saying), then the other person is going to feel like you are patronizing them. To patronize is to manipulate. To manipulate is to destroy trust.

“Is there anything you would like to add to help me understand where you are coming from?”

Underlying principle: Move at the pace of the speaker.

Partial information is misleading information. Customers that only get to explain some of their problems (when you are able to solve them all) and team members that only get to explain a portion of their thoughts about an issue (when they really have thought it through at great length) will feel frustrated and even a little violated.

As much as is possible, let the speaker explain in full.

“Would you be willing to merely consider an alternative perspective?”

Underlying principle: Ask permission to counter their perspective.

Depending on the type of products/services you offer, it might be helpful to frame this question with customers around a follow-up appointment, “You have given me so much to consider. I have a few ideas in mind already, but I would like a little time to think about what you have said and refine our approach to your problem. What is your schedule like on Thursday?”

If the conversation occurs between team members, it might be appropriate to ask permission to share right away.

Note: for some teams, members need far less validation. And for those teams, thick skins save tons of time. Rigorous debate can lead to healthy collaboration much faster when everyone is self-aware and knows how to not take things personally. Only, never assume that other people have thick skin, and don’t assume that you have it either!

Where there is conflict – a problem to be solved – all parties involved need to have a voice in the solution. The solution (or perspective) you have to share could be revolutionary and resonates with everyone in the room, but you can’t force your opinion.

You must learn to exert yourself, “learning” being the keyword here. A merging of self-exertion and student mentality will be far more effective eliminating defensiveness for your listener(s).

If you properly validated the other person, and if you countered their perspective respectfully without inciting defensiveness, then you are very likely to be validated in return. Validation among members of a group tends to be instinctive when leaders curate an environment of excitement and safety.

Only on the rarest occasions, you will meet someone so defensive (usually because of trauma from their past) that they are completely incapable of validating or being validated. Before you professionally “cut the cord,” seek a second and third opinion on that individual. It could just be that they challenge your collaboration skills in a new way.

Diversity Breeds Better Innovation.

Sometimes, too many differing points of view can feel overwhelming.

In his book  (founder of Center for Action and Contemplation) explains the brilliance of paradox.

A paradox is something that initially appears to be inconsistent or contradictory, but might not be a contradiction at all inside of a different frame or seen with a different eye.

One primary way to achieve a “different frame” or a “different eye” is to merge multiple perspectives. Proper collaboration always includes a paradigm shift for everyone involved in the conversation.

At times, the ideal solution is a compromise between two perspectives. Other times, someone will have a Eureka moment that properly incorporates all concerns in a new way.

Diversity in perspectives that engage each other respectfully (first) and rigorously (second) gives way to this “third eye” (again, borrowing from Richard Rohr, who himself borrowed from the ancient mystics).

If this process and scripting feels overwhelming to you, that is okay. You can practice and learn. Healthy collaboration can be addictive (in a good way) and expedite personal growth.

In conclusion, healthy collaboration will come easily to some more than others. Whether you are elegant or gawky, improvement is the goal, not appearance. Failure can be growth. Growth is always success.