The best gift you can give–space to be heard


Collaboration (Photo credit: yuan2003)

I grew up in a big family and the only way to survive was to learn how to collaborate with my siblings and work out a strategy to move mutual interests ahead. That meant, I had to learn to be good listener and less a manipulator. Harder still was something I didn’t understand and only learned later–being right is over-rated.  It’s easier to create a willing partner to my ideas if I allow others opportunity to put their gloss on it too.

I guess I didn’t realize or value my natural collaborative style. It took me by surprise in many work situations that few people were as willing to coöperate. That for all the times I used my strengths and capabilities to enable others whose talents or expertise was in a different domain, I discovered I couldn’t always end-run their barriers.

After a couple of serious catapulting maneuvers that I knew would be career ending, I benched myself. I took myself out of that arena and went to find a new game and new players. Years later, I began to recognize that perhaps there was another way to help people make needed changes and liberate both their own career and the organization?

I revisited some of my graduate studies in natural bias and incongruity of human decision-making in the face of uncertainty, specifically the work of my professor Hillel Einhorn and Robin Hogarth and that of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. I was green when it came to internalizing new ideas, some of them were easier to grasp than others and the formulas often eluded my connected comprehension. What did stick was the following:

In complex situations, we may rely too heavily on planning and forecasting and underestimate the importance of random factors in the environment. That reliance can also lead to delusions of control. “


It’s akin to finding something familiar and thinking “oh yeah, I got this.” Only to discover that you can’t exactly do it. Random elements aside, its difficult to recognize some subtle elements. Knowing all the steps to a good forehand stroke or golf swing, isn’t the same as actually connecting movements that successfully contact and propel the ball.

The problems and inconsistent behavior presented by unconscious intuition make linkages difficult, and prevent us from fully leveraging learning from parallel experiences. In my case, I found it difficult to extend and apply to interpersonal relationships the lessons and discoveries extrapolating risk I learned statistically modeling people’s financial behavior.

The bridge I sought arrived when a corporate reorganization landed me in outplacement for senior executives and I took the Meyer’s Brigg’s assessment for the first time.  Conveniently, I learned my type –INTP, and shown its rarity in corporate banking and absence among many c-suite executives.  At the time, when I wanted to reconcile my inability to survive a political reorganization, MBTI fueled my rationalization to leave corporate banking.  It was years later than I learned to recognize the confirmation bias at work.

My personal journey of experiential learning continued upon discovering the work of Roger Schank whose work in cognitive psychology emphasizes the importance of story and learning by doing. Story telling represents the synthesis of new learning with past experiences. The newly acquired knowledge can be more easily assimilated and finds outlets that further extend its value and build additional knowledge.  Learning presented whole in a bubble like school without context, doesn’t get the benefit of a road test which denies its connectivity to our perceptions and daily encounters.

But I digress. Collaboration was my topic. Good collaborators succeed because they recognize the distinctions they bring in perspective and perception.  Unexpected encounters or deviations in routine often present a stumble point.  Whether due to lack of confidence, disconnect between knowledge and know how or complete absence of knowledge, its’ risky to reveal our vulnerability.  Naturally, we find it easier to turn to people we know and trust for suggestions, tips, additional insight and information about how to proceed.  Alternatively, situations and circumstances that compel us to do it ourselves,  may arise when  we feel compelled to prove something, test ourselves and maybe distrust assurances others offer.

Which brings us to the challenges in beginning a collaborative venture or willing partnerships. The same stumble points above must be negotiated. Emotions, ever-present in every situation don’t necessarily dissipate because people know each other. Situation or circumstances that defy our comfort zone, know-how or knowledge provide pivotal moments for others to offer help, as long as we free up the emotional and physical space that allows them to voice their thoughts.

It seems obvious but again easier said then done.  The best way to gain the trust, friendship and cooperation of others is to give the one thing everyone wants.

As part of the development team on Collaborating Minds, I met Laurel Tyler a new member on Collaborating Minds.  She reminded me of the following lesson when she shared what makes her effective in working with teams and solving problems.

“People just want to know that they have been heard.”

The simplicity explain my eternal optimism and the approach I’ve found that makes me successful too.  It explains I’m on collaborating minds and helping build that community. If you would like to learn more about this project, drop me a line.

But better, try it. Amaze yourself  and discover how much easier everything gets in return.

May the spirit of the season inspire your listening.