When people enter into a close working arrangement whereby the outcome of one party depends on the action of another, it is only natural that tension may arise; sometimes even dangerously so. The threat of conflict in itself can be a real turnoff, even for the most enthusiastic and experienced collaborators. So what can be done about it?
Here are 2 things that can help.
- Keep your ego in check.
Without the complexity of human emotions there would be no modern commerce. That much needs to be acknowledged. As Nina Strohminger, psychologist at Duke University points out “If we had no scruples, we’d have precious little need for identities. Humans, with their engorged and highly complex socio-moral systems, have accordingly inflated egos“. However, the balance in getting the ego in check and not letting it run rampant is, whilst sometimes difficult, is absolutely essential. In a collaborative enterprise this is even more so the case. What this may actually mean in a particular setting is not a matter of a simple formula that can be followed. It is much more a matter of introspection and self-awareness. Being able to share that with your collaborating partners in an open manner is also a very empowering since the people you work with can be your best allies in helping you keeping things in balance. Ego-driven conversations can easily escalate into unwanted tension and hurt feelings. But with the foresight and openness this can be prevented. Collaboratively!
- Understand that tension is a good thing (as long as you get the first thing right)
The broad point to underscore here is the nature of the contemporary workplace. People change jobs more often and employers invest in their employees less so than in decades past. And the logic stacks up. Why would your employer spend money on training you in new skills, improving your wellbeing, broadening your horizons and/or investing in your innovation skills, your creativity and so on, when it might be easier and more economical to recruit a person with those attributes?
On a fundamental level collaboration offers a unique opportunity for all staff to learn something
And yet, if an employee wants to be competitive in their workplace they need to be relevant and adaptive; thus new skills, improved capacity to think and act differently, etc. This is where collaboration comes into play. On a fundamental level collaboration offers a unique opportunity for all staff to learn something. Collaboration is not possible if people do not share ideas, skills and insights. When this process of sharing and inevitable discussion, debate and analysis takes place between collaborating parties, it is then that learning occurs. In this entire process it is okay to expect and encounter rising tensions from being ‘challenged’ by your colleagues. As I often say, if collaboration does not change you, then you are probably not doing it right. Learning is about change. Resisting change is resisting learning, which is a sure sign one may be heading in the wrong direction and becoming less relevant in the workplace. Tensions rising from collaboration can and should always be managed systematically.
I recommend that every business invest in design of an agreed process of collaboration. In a mature business environment and with capable management in place, a strategy of collaboration will always be the starting point. It will be the principles and guidelines you agree to before collaboration commences that will safeguard all when tensions arise; and remember, tension can easily uncover the best intentions. So, that is why any tension in the process of collaboration is good thing: it is necessary.
These two factors are not exclusive by any means. But they are an unavoidable part of the process in successful collaboration. In my view, mastering these two factors would transform commercial outcomes in any business. Investing a relatively reasonable amount of energy into them is the very least a competitive business should do.