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The Basic Interpersonal Skills of Collaboration

© Martin Wilcox

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     For many years now, teamwork has been emphasized as a way of dealing with a growing complexity both inside and outside organizations. Recently a closely related but distinct resource for success has received a lot of attention: collaboration.

     What is collaboration? Collaboration is an activity in which people who aren’t members of the same formal group work together to achieve a common goal. It typically requires working across a variety of boundaries (vertical, horizontal, stakeholder, demographic, and geographic).

     There are several dimensions to successful collaboration: Identifying the best people to collaborate with, including the development of a network of those who can contribute to your work; setting up the collaborations; employing technical aids such as a variety of software applications effectively; and, perhaps most important, developing necessary interpersonal abilities.

     My experience in collaborating with people has shown me that there are ten skills that come into play most often. The more of these that you master, and the more effective you are in employing them, the better you will be at collaboration.

  • Communicating: making your position and perspective clear to other people (this includes defining a shared purpose and basis for working together).
  • Listening: making the effort to understand what people are telling you (this includes periodically summarizing for people what you are hearing).
  • Learning from experience: drawing lessons from successful and unsuccessful actions (this includes retrospection, that is, reflecting on past efforts, your own and other’s).
  • Empathy: putting yourself in the place of others and understanding their intellectual and emotional commitment to their ideas.
  • Sympathy: appreciating the other person’s situation.
  • Apologizing: getting past inevitable missteps and misunderstandings.
  • Co-developing: pointing out the pros and cons of ideas without being critical or dismissive of the ideas or the people presenting them.
  • Open advocacy: advancing ideas that contribute to a solution or achieving a goal without taking the position that this is the only possible approach.
  • Negotiating: working out a solution that accommodates everyone’s perspective.
  • Resiliency: dealing with the fear, depression, highs and lows, of facing complex challenges.

     The above abilities are meant to be suggestive. Interpersonal skills all overlap to some degree and can be described in different ways.