Take time to understand your colleagues

browningyork Collaboration, Communication lessons, Engagement, Organisational culture

A road sign which says right with an arrow pointing right and wrong with an arrow pointing leftIf you are making assumptions about your colleagues’ meanings and motivations, either consciously or not, chances are that the communication between you is not working very well. And while this isn’t great in any situation, it can be particularly problematic during a global pandemic (or any other time of pressure and uncertainty).

Listen up
A lot of the work that I do involves helping others to find and express their voice in their organisations. When people get the chance to say what they think about a given situation and others are able to genuinely listen and see it from someone else’s perspective, it’s amazing what difference can be made. Suddenly, a shared understanding leads to greater collaboration and things move forward.

Conversely, when people stay in their own little world, muttering about how ‘they’ don’t understand what it’s like or ‘they’ are just out to do something their own way, that’s when problems arise. People don’t feel heard. Entrenched views based on false understanding set in.

Test your assumptions
I recommend that, whatever your role, you take time to consider whether you are making assumptions about your colleagues.

  • Do you assume no-one is reading your newsletter because they’re not interested in the content? Carry out a readership survey to find out what’s really going on. You might find out that nobody is reading it because the format doesn’t work well on their screen and they haven’t got the time to change their settings.
  • Do you assume that someone in a different team won’t be interested in getting involved with your project team? If you contact them, show what’s in it for them and ask directly if they would like to help out, you might find they will jump at the chance to learn something new. Or to contribute their experiences from a non-expert point of view.
  • Or do you assume that your boss will hate your idea for a new way of doing things because it will change what happens in the team? Next time you’re having a chat, tell her that you would like to share an idea that you think will make things more efficient for the whole team and see what she says. If you show how your idea is a benefit to everyone and not a challenge to any one person, the conversation will go much better.

  • Different experiences
    But this isn’t just about speaking up.

    Remember that genuine understanding comes from genuine listening. Your colleagues’ experiences and interpretations are likely to be different to your own. So when you ask them to get involved with your project, make sure you hear what they actually say in reply.

    It’s easy to feel cross if you pluck up the courage to ask them to collaborate and they say no. But…

  • They might say no because their previous experience of a different team’s project was not good.
  • They might say no because their own team has 2 fewer people right now due to furlough.
  • They might say no because they lack confidence in their own abilities and don’t want to let you down.

  • Whatever their reasoning, don’t assume it’s the same as yours would be in their position. You’ll need to have further conversation to find out more.

    All in all, if you challenge your own assumptions and find time to listen to others, you’ll find that it is much easier to collaborate and get the job – whatever it is – done.

    If you would like help with identifying ways to ensure you and your colleagues can develop mutual understanding, please feel free to get in touch for a chat about how I can support you.

    Until next time
    Sarah