This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Last week’s tip about shifting out of “order-taker” role got me thinking about a telling experience I once had with a tech support person. He fell into a classic trap, which I’m now sharing with you because it’s one we’re all vulnerable to.

Short background: I had arrived on client site, a long way from home, only to discover that I hadn’t packed my laptop power cable. I was to be there for two days, which is probably all I need to say to give you a sense of the magnitude of this problem.

Fortunately, there was a really great help desk on site, which I promptly visited. I explained my plight to the very friendly person at the counter, and asked for a loaner cable. He politely and matter-of-factly replied, “We can’t do that because X and Y.”

Two points for directness and clarity. Minus 10 for collaboration.

He’d have scored much better had he instead said, “OK, we have two hurdles to overcome.” I’d have willingly contributed all my ideas and energy to surmount them as a motivated part of that “we.” I’d have also left the interaction with a favorable experience of the relationship even if I hadn’t gotten my desired outcome.

(In addition, the tech helper could have gotten lifetime bonus points if he had first said something empathetic, like “Oh no!” But let’s stay focused on the collaboration issue.)

The disconnect really stemmed from his mindset. He was starting from an attitude of “What we can’t do”(fulfill my request), rather than an attitude of “What we can do” (explore the issues together, as a place to start).

I do this sometimes, when I’m either too focused on protecting my interests or too anxious about something or running too short on time.

I bet you also have triggers that lead you to respond in less-than-cooperative ways. We all do.

Collaboration is easy to espouse and hard to live. It’s a muscle that takes deliberate effort to build.

Make It Real

This week, ask a trusted teammate to be on the lookout for your not-so-collaborative responses and reactions. What do you discover?

Learn More


Read more about why it’s so hard to collaborate, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on an improv technique known as “Yes, and …” in Chapter 8 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).