How to Collaborate with People You Don’t Trust


Collaboration is essential in our time. When hearing this term, many people think about working together in the same company, team, or project. Collaboration, however, can be more present than just be a part of our professional life.

Being collaborative can be a crucial necessity even in certain past times such as online gaming or traditional sports. You can also collaborate with relatives in the kitchen to make a nice meal. Collaboration is the process of working together with others to produce a specific output and sometimes we are not friends with the people we have to work with. Regardless of your feelings about the others, you still need to achieve your goals – but how to deal with that challenge?

Collaborating with the enemy

Beyond merely disliking one or more people you have to work with, I once wrote an article about how trust plays a key role in collaboration. The book Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust by Adam Kahane focuses on this aspect even more. The author wants to provide the readers with help to overcome problems like that. With this article, I’d like to inform you about some of the critical elements of this book, but I recommend you to read it entirely if you’re interested in the mentioned methodology and practices.

“We fear that if we collaborate with those others, we will become contaminated or compromised.”

To be better at collaborating with people you don’t like, you should try to do better at communication. You can’t just force your ideas out there and flatten everybody else’s opinions. Kahane refers to four modes of listening in his book. “presencing” and “dialoguing” are considered to be the two productive kinds of listening, while “downloading” and “debating” are discarded as unproductive ways of communicating. You should exchange thoughts and also “read” the remarks of your counterparts in the project when you want to collaborate effectively. Don’t just blame everybody else for being a poor communicator, try to improve your own communication and that might even inspire others to do it just like you.

What can we learn?

Further Kahane introduces a concept called “stretch collaboration,” being defined as a means to enable collaborators to move on with working together, even if they might not be able to control the outcome. In stretch collaboration, the participants leverage trial and error approach to achieve mutually acceptable results as facts and this leads to “co-creation.” This concept is in contrast with the traditional meaning of collaboration with the context of achieving a “harmonic” work environment that would consist of certainty and compliance.

 “We cannot change the rules of the game, so we must play it as well as we can.”

Three key aspects are explained that should be considered to practice:

  • Forget about harmony and focus on achieving your goals.
  • Try experiments and be willing to consider different perspectives.
  • Work with what you have and don’t complain.

If you’d like to read more about the collaboration methods of Adam Kahane you should definitely have a look at his book. There are some handy tips on how to improve collaboration behavior and a lot of educational backgrounds too.

In case you’d like to know more about related subjects, feel invited to check out some of my other articles as well:

Thanks for reading!
Photo credit: Jim Baker

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Christopher Isak
Christopher Isak
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)
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