Whether virtually or in person you are often called upon to work with someone else that you really do not know. When that happens what should you do? This can feel awkward. After all you do not know this person. First things first. If possible, set aside some time to learn about each other. It is particularly important to try and find a way to connect with the other person. Have a series of question in mind to help sort out what you may doing together.




For those of you that follow this blog you know the overall theme is collaboration to help businesses be more productive, grow faster, and enhance collaboration. Last week over 30 ideas were presented from blogs in 2019 on collaboration. The Collaboration Effect® is all about connecting relationships, listening actively, and educating judiciously in order to build bridges and negotiate closure. But how can you do that with someone you do not know?


Introductions and first steps


When ever possible, make a point to take or make time to take some time to get to know the other person. Even a small amount of small talk has been found to pay big dividends in a negotiation. Knowing this about negotiations, isn’t collaborating with someone new in essence a negotiation?  Historically, this might be to go to coffee or have lunch together. With Covid-19 this is more likely that a virtual meeting will take place.

Set up time for a virtual coffee.

Come with an open mind and with open ended questions. Open ended questions are those requiring more than yes-no answers. You are trying to find a way to connect with the other person.


What should you ask?


Ask questions like:

  • Tell me about yourself?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • Where did you go to school?
  • Where do you live now?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • How long have you been working at ….?
  • Are you married or single?
  • Do you have any children?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • If you had any pets what you have as a pet?
  • Do you like coffee or tea?
  • If so, what do you like?
  • What do you like to do for fun?

You get the idea. The key here is to ask questions that allow for open ended answers. Listen carefully. Paraphrase, summarize, and empathize with the other person. This is key to helping the other party to open up.

The more the other party is speaking, the more you learn, and the better the chances that you will find ways to begin to connect with the other party. The key is to listen actively.

Make the point to respond and demonstrate your interest in the other party. Once someone has been listened to, they are more likely to listen to you. Be an active listener. This helps ensure understanding on your part.

Provide minimal information on yourself initially and allow the other person to ask questions. Yes, this is an introduction, but is not about you. It is primarily about the other person. Your gaining insight into them will help you the most. You can always expand on yourself later. Once you have moved beyond introductions and small talk it is important to explore what you may be doing together and your understanding going forward.


Who does what by when?


Whatever it is you will be collaborating on together it is especially important to know what each of you sees as the facts, any issues, your own emotion tied to the issues, and your interests. You should explore your own perspectives ahead of time if possible. Come with some idea of what you want for yourself and what you want as outcomes for this team effort.

A collaboration implies working together towards a common goal. What is the goal? Do you both have the same goal? If you do great. If not explore each other’s goal(s) and look for ways you can work together to jointly maximize interests.

It is important that you break up tasks that you both agree on who will do what by when. Before you leave any conversation, pause, go back, and reaffirm your understanding.

Many times, this simple act of reaffirming identifies elements of miscommunication. In my own experience once when upper management set up a major meeting to decide on one of two competing approaches. I witnessed what can happen when this has not been clarified. I was junior manager at the meeting. Everyone thought management was going to decide on one of two ways going forward from the two competing approaches. The meeting came to an end and no commentary was provided on a conclusion or on next steps. I was confused so I simply raised my hand and asked, “which project is going forward and who is doing what by when?” There was a pause. I was simply trying to understand. Then leadership indicated, “we will do that by then”.   The room erupted; nobody knew what that meant. After some consternation, it was determined, that upper management needed some time to think this through. That made sense to me. No decision was made at that time, but that should have been clearly stated.

By taking the time to ask this question this can significantly enhance the probability of success. You want to make sure that both of you are on the same page.


Strengths and weaknesses


When you are exploring the facts, issues, and interests, consider sharing your own strengths and weaknesses and asking the other party about theirs. Why?

Perhaps you can build on both of your strengths for better outcomes.

If both of you share common weaknesses, might you want to bring on board another party or find a way to minimize your weaknesses?

How do you like to work given your personality? For example, I am analytical and focus on deadlines. To me these are important elements for project management. On the other hand, this can be a weakness. Sometimes I am not as sensitive to other’s feelings as I should be. Surrounding myself with others to make sure I am taking the time to listen to everyone and empathize can help me. Others are more interested in process than I might be. If that is important (and generally it is), this means that I need to slow down the process. Other’s perceptions given some thought may add real value. If rushed through to completion the project outcome may not be as good as it could have been.




Instead of feedback as the project goes along, consider feedforward. Feed forward looks at what has happened along the way and then asks, “what have we learned from this and what will we do together differently in the future?’ It is important to apply feedforward positively.

You will never make it to perfection, but the pursuit of perfection with instill excellence with the team.

Keep your focus on your goal. Keep everyone positive. Use feedforward to enhance understanding and make improvements.


What do we need from everyone?


Finally, given these earlier steps, what is needed by everyone going forward? This includes attitude, values, knowledge, skills, and other attributes that will contribute to the goal of this collaborative effort. Once you address each of these points and ensure everyone is aligned going forward, you are on your way to healthy collaboration.

For more information on what might work for you check out this book by Rebecca Zucker, Collaborating with Someone You Don’t Really Know,” for additional insights.


About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.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, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]