Collaboration: The Emotions You Need to Do It

Succesful collaboration is built on a high level of emotional literacy.

Without the capacity to generate and sustain certain feelings, our ability to collaborate with others is not possible. By the time we reach adulthood and enter the workplace, our emotional repertoire has become habituated. Emotional habits are then fueled by our thinking process which is often fixed into patterns. Beliefs are the engine and outside events and social interactions trigger emotions.

Unless we consciously set out to explore and reshape our mindsets, we’re easily locked into patterns that make working with others, challenging.

Today’s workplace relies on flexible, learning-oriented collaborative relationships. Most organizations understand that without collaboration, real engagement is not possible. 

Although we hear more today about the value of cooperation, we don’t hear much about the nuts and bolts of the how-to. The legacy of hierarchical, competitive-driven cultures is not collobaration friendly. And the emotions that many still put down as soft, are the very feelings that are the core of effective collaborative interactions.

Most of us are not schooled in the practice of the kinds of emotions that support collaboration. We do not get recognition or promotions for displaying appreciation or equanimity towards others – but these are the very feelings that promote an atmosphere of comfort, inclusion, creativity – and trust.

Neuroscience has shown that social-emotional learning goes on throughout adult life. Our early emotional learning does not have to determine how we relate to others. Since the brain is a social organ – and emotional contagion is real, how we relate in groups is always reinforcing and reshaping our personal and collective cognitive landscapes. Most of the time, it is done outside of our conscious awareness

Developing collaborative skills requires a high degree of emotional awareness and exceptional competencies of self-management and social intelligence.

The more we learn to cultivate the emotions that contribute to the collaborative process, the more we shift habituated interactions with others into more dynamic and authentic relationships.

  • Empathy – No question about it – this is a big-ticket emotion that provides the foundation for collaboration, sharing and openness. It helps us to develop our ability to understand what is important to others, which is critical to the development of trust.
  • Patience – An emotion (and skill) in short-supply, that serves us in every area of our lives. It is an essential emotion if we intend to focus our attention and interest to other’s experience.
  • Curiosity – This is one of those “neutral” emotions. You don’t have to agree with someone to demonstrate curiosity.  Many people have turned off their curiosity antennae. They are too inundated, overloaded or even, bored. The natural curiosity of human nature suffers as a result. Curiosity is a wonderful assest – and a spark for other emotions like enthusiasm and wonder.
  • Forgiveness – Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes they are even biggies. Unless we are engaged in a deeper understanding of where we stand in terms of forgiving and letting go (that does not have to mean we condone or deny our own feelings) it’s hard to work and collaborate with others. Old emotional baggage will surface if we are not on top of it.
  • Appreciation – Gratitude goes hand in hand with appreciation. Both require us to step back and take a longer look at what is right and working for us (and others). These emotions are perspective shifters. Appreciation works magic in groups because it is the polar opposite of judgment. Judgment distances – appreciation is a joining emotion which draws us closer together.
  • Optimism – Collaborative efforts can be hard work. We often need to hang in there and believe that we are working togther for something bigger than the tasks at hand. Sometimes the natural cycles of conflict arise when we are working through difficult terrain with others. Often well-intentioned people can get stuck when trying to communicate, especially when decisions need to be made. Maintaining our optimism through challenging times takes work – but the sustaining qualities of optimism can keep us emotionally resilient.
  • Calmness – Ah – the elusive emotion – especially in the face of dealing with others in important and difficult circumstances. Calmness is also the great enabler of patience – and in fact, of emotional choices. There’s abundant research that shows that we cannot think clearly (using the “excecutive center” of our pre-frontal cortex, when we have activated our limbic system’s flight or fight response. Developing knowledge of what triggers us and why is the key to cultivating more calmness in our thinking and approach to others.

All of these emotions, critical to real collaboration, are within our power to cultivate. Take stock and identify what emotions surface when you work with others. Developing your emotional repertoire is a powerful on-going commitment that will serve you well in every part of your life.

Thanks for reading. 
Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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