In order to promote collaboration and to prevent conflicts and disputes have you ever considered the language you use to promote or not promote cooperation? This commentary explores some leadership techniques, neuroscience implications, and provides practical considerations to help you promote cooperation when working on collaborative tasks with others. It is possible to use language unintentionally that can cause friction inadvertently. Consideration of needs and feelings can go a long way to promote collaboration. Empathy may be your most significant tool in your tool box when enlisting others to collaborate with you.
Cooperative and collaborative actions
Have you ever been on a team and offered some of your time, talent, or personal interests only to find out some other participant(s) do not reciprocate and instead simply stay on for the free ride? How does that make you feel? Might you be more reluctant to participate at the same level than you initially thought you were based on their behavior? Are there other factors to consider too? For example, what is your social status and that of the freeloader? If the person is your boss or another boss, you may be willing to excuse their behavior because they have a lot on their plate or feel that you cannot address the situation as a subordinate. It may be worthwhile for you to withhold judgment and to explore why someone is not pulling their own weight. What type of resources are they not giving up? Their time? Their expertise? Their resources such as their people, computer time, data sets, or other resources.
You may want to have a discussion with others first and then with the person to gain additional insight when someone does not carry their own weight. Others may be able to persuade this person to pick up the slack. Maybe they had no intention to work with you. At least you can find out where they are coming from and why. Perhaps they have personal or mental health issues impacting their situation.
What have researchers found?
In an article entitled “How to Talk So People Will Cooperate” the Greater Good Science center shares several studies. Here are some of the takeaways.
Knowing specific intentions matter
Who will do what by when with a specific commitment matters compared with general statements regarding committed to the task or to do more next time.
Group consensus promoted action
If there was a discussion and everyone contributed to the commentary, then when commitments were requested and made there was a much greater probability of follow through.
Ask the group about their intentions
By posing a direct question to the entire group about everyone’s intention clarifies commitment as well as who is not on board.
Humor and warmth vs. formal and self-interested communication
Having a sense of humor and being warm and inviting encouraged a collective identity and a norm to cooperate with others. Comparatively the style often used in business and politics that was more formal and self-interested were less cooperative and resulted in poorer results.
Affirming, encouraging, and inclusion
By comparison making the effort to be affirming regularly and the way the person prefers to be affirmed by an encouraging coach with positive motivational phrases so that everyone was included and made to feel welcome was a great first step for others to cooperate.
Practical commentary on language
When faced with a task that you need to delegate or form a team to address, think about how you may approach the situation. When you approach someone else consider the term “opportunity.” An opportunity may be something the other party wants to be involved in. For example, desired training, working on a specific project or team, having access to certain information or something else. On the other hand, it may be something that simply has to be completed and you need someone to do it. This is their turn. Either way we all approach a new activity with skepticism as a matter of survival as a species. Couching the term as an “opportunity” may make the term more neutral to the receiver.
Certain words or phrases can trigger you and trigger others. Sometimes you may even say something that you did not realize it even was a trigger. So, what can you do? The Center for Nonviolent Communication has provided two commentaries to help. One addresses Feelings Inventory.
This feelings inventory provides words that express emotional states and physical sensations. The list is not exhaustive in nature. It is a starting place to support someone to deeper discovery and to facilitate connections between people. The document is broken into two parts. The first addresses feelings when your needs are satisfied. The second addresses when your needs are not satisfied. When you listen with empathy you can use a listing like this to verify what you heard from the other party. Empathy is important in leadership. Here are ten reasons why empathy matters. The following is an excerpt from the feelings inventory
Feelings when your needs are satisfied
Feelings when your needs are not satisfied
The second commentary addresses the Needs Inventory. Again, this list too is neither exhaustive nor definitive. The purpose of the list to help you for deeper self-discovery and to allow you to facilitate a better understanding and connection between people. The following is an excerpt from the Needs Inventory.
Language matters. To promote collaboration as a leader, promote cooperative actions and language. Make use of the key points based introduced here from quantified research. Use the word “opportunity” when bringing new activities to team members. Empathy matters. Consider the full listing of both feelings and needs for yourself and when working with others. You do make a difference in the lives of others. With the tools presented here, consider how you can use these to make an even bigger positive difference in the future with others. Let me know how it goes and what you think.
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at email@example.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]