Want Cooperation? Befriend Your Vulnerabilities

So far, none of my coaching clients have ever told me they don’t believe in cooperation. In fact, they believe collaborating with a colleague or working with another team is the right thing to do.  No doubt, this is what most would say when asked. So why is true cooperation so hard to do? Here’s my hypothesis. Cooperation is a great idea but real life cooperation requires us to face our vulnerabilities and fears because the only way to collaborate with another person is to recognize we are better with someone else, which means we are not enough or we are not perfect. And who likes to admit that?

I’m convinced the three following attributes are critical for effective cooperation: Seeking help from others; yielding to someone else’s better idea; sharing credit and recognition.

Seeking Help From Others – some of us recoil at the idea of getting directions from a stranger when we’re lost, for fear of looking bad.  If so, imagine the challenge of having to ask a colleague to help us through a sticky or perplexing work situation.  Our need for “looking good” runs deep, but it is the exact opposite, our willingness to be vulnerable, that opens the door to sharing and learning from others. Somehow, when we show our human-ness and our fragility, and put up our hand in search of help, most respond with compassion and an eagerness to help.  Yes, you do need to be discerning about how you ask and whom you ask, especially when at work.  But I encourage you to step out and be the courageous one who says, “I wonder if you can give me your thoughts on a problem I have.  I know you are really good at this and would welcome your help.”

Yielding to Someone Else’s Better Idea – it takes quite a bit of self-confidence to recognize and admit that someone else has a better take on a subject.  We’d prefer to be the person with the winning idea — the smart one, the witty one, the one everyone else turns to.  But when we are focused on a shared goal, a mission greater than our own gain, we realize collaboration is the only way to create an optimized solution.  “Two heads are better than one” is an aphorism because it’s true.  A vital strategy is to simply listen.  Just stop talking and listen.  It’s amazing what will come to you.  Be brave enough to allow it in, recognize the person who offered it up and actually consider their contribution.

Sharing Credit and Recognition – in a zero sum world, giving someone else credit means I have to lose, but luckily life need not be a zero-sum game.  Some of the best leaders I’ve ever worked for freely gave credit to others and celebrated the accomplishments of others.  They did it sincerely.  Invariably, positive recognition of others always came back to help them in the future.  Through these gestures, they gained trust and loyalty from others.  If you believe there’s only a limited pie, then you will hoard and grab recognition at every opportunity. But if you believe it is an unlimited pie that can be shared and gained by all, then you will always have enough for yourself.

Cooperation and collaboration is the way to success in our interconnected and global world.  This modality of work can be highly rewarding and exhilarating.  But it can also cause challenges and friction — much of it, within ourselves — our fears, doubts and vulnerabilities.  Be aware of these feelings and be willing to listen, acknowledge and accredit.  Good tidings will come your way.