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Collaboration and Opening Folks to New Ideas

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I was playing air hockey with my son yesterday and it got me thinking about people being defensive about their own ideas. See, my son has become very good at air hockey by following a few simple principles:

  • If you can get the puck moving very fast, you control it and your opponent has a hard time gaining control – thus you can score.

  • If your opponent has control, your singular goal in life is to defend your goal.

This manifests on our hockey table as an instant return to covering the goal anytime he loses control of the puck. He’s very good at this too – I can slam that thing at him all day long and rarely get it past him. My only chance to make a goal is to get him to move away from defending his goal. I do this by presenting opportunities.

My Son, like most other people, wants an opportunity to score. He knows that by defending his goal he can prevent me from scoring, but he also knows that he will not score very often by doing that. When the puck slows enough for him to gain control of it – he moves away from the defensive position and begins his attack. So my strategy for scoring on him? I have to alternate slow delivery of the puck to him – causing him to try to take advantage of that opportunity – with fast attacks at his goal while he’s out “on the ice” trying to attack me. If I just bang the puck at him as hard as I can – his defenses stay up, and I can’t score.

What does this have to do with collaboration? Often time collaboration means helping other people understand your point of view. You are working together on a problem/solution and you both are defending your point of view. Many times people will try to come up with reason after reason why their idea is superior (slamming the puck) and reason after reason why the other persons idea will not work (defending the goal) – but the real scoring happens when both players are “out on the ice” volleying the puck back and forth – throwing around ideas with equal weight with a common goal… to score.

To get folks to do this you have to present opportunities. You telling me “my idea is better because xyz” doesn’t make me want to move away from my defensive position – it puts me there. However, approaching the issue with questions “what are our options for addressing this issue?” or “In the scenario you propose how does xyz work?”. By asking questions you present others with opportunity to expand on their idea, think through it, and not have to defend. If the idea wont work often times they’ll come up with that on their own. If the idea will work – it’ll open your mind to the possibilities and what that looks like.