After every election, politicians say the same thing: “Now we have to reach across the aisle to work together for good of the people.”
And I hear similar proclamations (of working together for the good of all) from my corporate clients who are looking to break down the “silo mentality” of their companies.
Sounds simple. But we know it isn’t.
Here are four tips to consider when your goal is to build collaboration in any organization:
1. Recognize your ingroup-outgroup biases
It’s a well-known principle in social psychology that people define themselves in terms of social groupings: Any group that people feel part of is an ‘ingroup’ and any group that excludes them an ‘outgroup.’ We think differently about members in different groups and behave differently toward them. Similarities make us feel comfortable. We assume we know what ingroup people are like – they’re good people, like us! We’re not so sure about “them.” When we see people as part of an outgroup (and most especially if we are also prejudiced against that group), we are more likely to judge any negative act as typical of their character and to attribute any positive actions as ‘the exceptional case.’
So it’s obvious that collaboration efforts are more successful when we expand our view of “ingroup” to be more inclusive of formerly “outgroup” members by consciously looking for commonalities instead of fixating on differences.
2. Confront your confirmation bias
Confirmation bias is a type of selective thinking in which we tend to notice and look for that which confirms our beliefs and positions, and to ignore or undervalue the relevance of anything that is contradictory. That’s why, once we’ve decided that we have found the “right answer” or know the “right way” to do something, it is so difficult to consider the value of other people’s opinion to the contrary.
I tell my corporate audiences that we are in a world of multiple right answers: “There’s more than one right way to deliver babies, pizza, or a joke.” So, although we are invested in our own opinions, it’s helpful to realize that one of us doesn’t have to be wrong for the other to be right.
3. Make crisis work for you
No one wants to deal with a crisis, but new research shows why the stress of combating a crisis may increase collaboration. The classic view is that, under stress, men respond with “fight or flight,’ i.e. they become aggressive or leave the scene, whereas women are more prone to ‘tend and befriend.” A study at the University of Freiburg, Germany suggests that acute stress may actually lead to greater cooperative, social, and friendly behaviour, even in men. This more positive and social response could help explain the human connection that happens during times of crises. Researchers believe that this collaborative connection may be responsible, at least in part, for our collective survival as a species.
3. Pay attention to where you pay attention
Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how the brain changes throughout life. One finding is that the act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes and is continually reshaping brain patterns. Concentrating attention on a thought or an insight or a hope or a fear will, over time, keep the relevant circuitry open and dynamically alive. With enough focus, new circuits become stable, physical links in the brain’s structure.
This is why all of us – at any age and for any reason – can choose to change our minds and our behaviour.
To me, that’s encouraging!
Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence.
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