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What Is Collaboration?

Feb 21, 2013 12:06:45 PM

In a recent survey, CEO’s identified critical skills needed to ensure success in this improving economy.  No surprise that the skill collaboration made it into the top three.  But what is collaboration? The word collaborate has its roots in Latin, and comes from collaboratus, past participle of collaborare to labor together, from Latin com- + laborare to labor.  So, working together.

I think most of us would agree that working with others gives us the benefit of a longer reach, additional talent and skills, added experience, and so-on.  While we recognize the value, most of us would also agree it can be challenging and sometimes downright painful. Why is this so and what can be done about it?

Last weekend, my husband and I attended a class that was based on the relationship research done by Dr. Sue Johnson, and her book detailing that work called Hold Me Tight.  Her research shows the relevance of attachment theory in adult relationships, which used to be seen as only impacting children.  No matter our age, we all want to feel an emotional connection and a sense of belonging, and we can become triggered when we perceive a loss of this connection.  Sue calls these sensitivities our “raw spots”: those vulnerabilities or the fear of loss of attachment or belonging. The interesting thing is that when one of our raw spots is triggered, we tend to distance ourselves or demonstrate behaviors such as blame or aggression.

It makes sense that in a committed personal relationship it would be important to have an awareness of when one feels threatened by a partner strong-arming, ignoring or criticizing, but what about at work?  Do these same triggers become tripped in the workplace?  I wonder if the patterns that we dance in our personal relationships also show up in our work relationships.  I suspect that they do.

I’ve noticed, for example that one trigger in my personal relationship is impatience.  A slow response or failure to move on the part of my partner, and I may step around and move forward alone.  I am less collaborative when I feel my partner isn’t there for me in the way I prefer.  So I go it alone.  This is also true of me in business relationships too.  A combination of a work partner not being attentive in some fashion, or my own revved-up process can potentially derail my ability to be collaborative.  And what is crazy is that intellectually I value the collaborative process!  But emotionally, well, I can get stuck in my own fear of being alone.

I am curious about what others notice about when or why they check out of collaboration with business partners.  Do you also find that at the root of it there is fear of rejection or being alone.

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Deb Siverson

Deb Siverson is the owner and founder of Xponents. She completed her Masters in Organizational Leadership from University of Colorado-Boulder. Deb is the author of the book, "The Cycle of Transformation: igniting organizational change through the leader coach."

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