We know a collaborator when we see one

Science tells us that people have fine-tuned their skills to detect some features about humans in a matter of seconds.  We form impressions of each other literally within a matter of seconds and mostly without being aware of it.  So, I wonder how long it takes to detect if a person across the table is a true collaborator … or simply an imposter?

Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue argues that the human mind has evolved a special instinct for social exchange that enables us to reap the benefits of co-operation

Matt Ridley’s The Origins of Virtue argues that the human mind has evolved a special instinct for social exchange that enables us to reap the benefits of co-operation

Collaboration is the younger sister of co-operation.  Similar in character but still unique.  Co-operation is as old as humankind.  So, we must look to co-operation to seek answers for collaboration.  What have we learned about human co-operation that enables us to tell if a person or a group of people across the table will co-operate?  Some of the characteristics of a co-operative person can, and often do, apply to a collaborative one.  But collaboration also has some specifics of its own.  So here is a brief look into the trust factor as one of the characteristics that may assist us in being better able to tell if someone is really up for collaboration or if we are wasting our time.

Trust = profit.  Collaboration can work without trust.  Kind of.  The fact is that collaboration in a workplace and between organisations happens all the time, and yet often the trust factor may be very low.  Most people I have spoken to agree that trust matters a lot when we collaborate, or even before we decide to collaborate.  However, we also know that lack of trust stops people from collaborating. This reveals the fact that there are many reasons why people collaborate, but it also may tell us something about the reasons why collaborations fail.  Lack of trust may be a cause.  An expensive one too.  One recent survey by SEEK Australia indicated that an overwhelming majority of people do not trust their work colleagues.  Interestingly enough, I find that figure closely correlates to engagement levels, which are also very low and cost business billions.  A mistrust between people can be harmful in many ways and could potentially foster very damaging factors in business.  Take for instance this result by Parade Magazine in USA: “35% of American employees would forgo a substantial pay rise if they could see their direct supervisors fired.”

But, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.  Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher and Law Professor at the University of Chicago, offers this view on trust: “Trust involves opening oneself to the possibility of betrayal, hence to a very deep form of harm. It means relaxing the self-protective strategies with which we usually go through life, attaching great importance to actions by the other over which one has little control. It means, then, living with a certain degree of helplessness.”  This is worth reading twice in order to commit to collaboration that will not disappoint as a result of a cynical outlook we may nurture because we do not trust others.  It may also be helpful and inspiring to note Matt Ridley’s insight (author of The Origins of Virtue) “Our minds have been built by selfish genes, but they have been built to be social, trustworthy and cooperative’.  The overall lesson should be the recognition that collaboration is of mutual interest.  Collaborating parties have a responsibility to be genuine in seeking to build trust, thereby ensuring that collaboration is cost effective.