In general, when someone comes with a question the typical response is to respond with an answer or what we believe to be a solution. This sets up a supply process for answers, but is this what is really needed? If we want collaboration, because that increases team work, reduces resources, reduces toil, reduces stress and increases productivity and therefore profit, there are three things to consider.
First, ask questions. Whoever comes to you with the question should also come with what they believe to be a solution(s) if possible. Ask questions to explore if this has been done. At first asking questions may seem to be counterintuitive, but it is quite possible that by asking questions in a positive and inquisitive way may help the other party come to an answer on his or her own. What is the advantage of this approach? You don’t have to be a problem solver. You don’t need to be the hero. Make the questioning party the hero. By the other party answering the question the other party has more confidence on how to approach a similar problem next time. The other party feels empowered to make decisions using a similar framework in the future. Generation Z (born after 2000) is being taught this as a matter of practice in our schools and it is having a direct impact on our culture. Ask questions such as what alternatives have you considered? Going over various alternatives what were the impacts of each? You may want consider economic, social and/or environmental impacts and evaluate them together. You may discover other stakeholders and think of consequences that were initially unforeseen.
Demonstrate Active Listening
Second, when listening demonstrate that you are truly listening by focusing on the other person. This is the key to building a positive working relationship. Give the other party your full attention. Put down your phone. Turn away from computer. Face the person. Listen and demonstrate that you are listening by summarizing, paraphrasing, asking questions and listening with empathy. By actively listening you demonstrate how much you are concerned about their question and also about the other party’s wellbeing. This reinforces that you care and builds trust. Trust is critical to having a good working relationship and having engaged employees.
Third, demonstrate how you value collaboration in your firm and with others over competition. Go out of your way to find ways to say something positive about others that are working with you or other team members in a collaborative manner. Catch others doing things right and give them accolades. Don’t gossip or provide negative commentary regarding others. Avoid the temptation to be defensive or protecting your territory. Unhealthy competition tends to make one defensive and healthy collaboration encourages creativity and discovery. Isn’t that what you want to foster?
In short, ask open ended questions, demonstrate active listening and promote collaboration by recognizing this activity in others. By maintaining this positive above the line attitude and fostering this type of thinking it grows on others and enhances the environment with everyone. The effect of collaboration is to enhance relationships, resources and revenues.