To Improve Collaboration, Try an Olive Branch on Steroids
March 28, 2014 Editor 0
With the exception of “dyed-in-the-wool” unforgiving types (you know, the people who seem to delight in ruining family holiday dinners), one of the things nearly all of us are defenseless against is a sincere, earnest, unsolicited apology.
Despite its power, there are not a small number of people in this world who have never received one — and an equally sizable number of people who have never felt they owed one to someone. And yet for the majority of people, it’s disarming and intriguing enough to lower their guard to hear what the apologizer has to say.
If you’re unsure of the value in delivering a sincere, earnest, unsolicited apology, you need go no further than the neurology of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons appear to help us with learning and empathy. But they can also have a negative impact, such as when criticism triggers defensiveness (i.e. a reciprocal criticism from the criticized) and bared teeth trigger reciprocally bared teeth. In the case of a sincere, earnest, unsolicited apology, receptiveness begets more openness. Still too soft? You need look no further than conflicts you have successfully resolved at home with your spouses, children or parents… unless of course you truly believe that your “my way or the highway” approach to life has served you well.
So, I can’t guarantee that it will work, but if there is someone you work with that is not cooperating and with whom you would like to improve cooperation, it might be worth your trying. The sincere, earnest, unsolicited apology consists of five steps:
- Select the person with whom you would like to improve cooperation with and communicate to them (probably best to do in person at not by paper trail leaving email), “Might there be a time when we can talk for a few minutes in person or by phone, because I just realized that I owe you an apology?” Hopefully their curiosity will cause them to agree.
- When you meet say to them, “Would you agree that we have come to different conclusions on a number of situations?” Hopefully they will agree with that statement — but if they hesitate, simply proceed directly to the next step:
- “If that’s so, I owe you an apology because I have never taken the time or made the effort to understand how you came to came to the conclusions you have.” Then wait to see what they say. In all likelihood they will say nothing because they’ll be too busy feeling a little disarmed and not knowing what to think.
- Wait a few moments and then say, “And furthermore I owe you another apology for something that I am not proud of. And that is that I never even wanted to understand your point of view, because I was so focused on pushing through my agenda. That was wrong and I am sorry.” Owning up to and taking responsibility for negative thoughts and feelings they have towards you is further disarming.
- Then say, “And if you are willing to give me another chance, I would like to fix that starting now.”
This may not always work, but it has a good chance of being accepted. If it is, but seem dumbfounded or are looking for you to start the ball rolling, do so by saying, “So please tell me how you came to think about x, y and z the way you do.”
As they begin to explain how they have come to develop their point of view, employ conversation deepeners to help them open up ever more deeply. Conversation deepeners including saying thinks like, “Say more about such and such” (where “such and such” is any statement they make that has an emotional charge or uses hyperbole)” or “Really,” (with a tone that communicates interest and understanding on your part, not skepticism) or even just “Hmmm.”
Keep listening until you really do understand how and why they think the way they do. You can communicate that by saying such things as, “Wow, that really explains a lot” or “I can see why you think and believe what you do.”
After you have reached that point you will often have the opportunity to say, “You don’t have to, but would you want to hear about what I think and believe and how I came to my conclusion about those matters?” Hopefully they will mirror the receptiveness you’ve just shown. But if they say no, you might follow up with something like, “I will definitely respect that, however we are both expected by each of our [departments/groups/bosses] to work together and achieve a result that will satisfy them and help our respective [group/company]. So then, how do you suggest we proceed, if we can now agree that neither of us wants to do something that jeopardizes either of our positions in our respective companies?” By following these steps you are setting the other person and you up to formulate a solution to the problem each of you are trying to solve in your particular job in your company.
And that is not merely cooperation. It’s taking a big step toward collaboration and that is where you both begin to take action.
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