3 Powerful Steps to Foster Collaboration by Choosing the Right Words

Collaboration isn't always easy

Have you ever been in a meeting on campus, trying to make a valuable contribution with the best intentions, only to be received with hostility and unwillingness to collaborate? Situations like these happen every single day.

It is possible that the words you used worked against you. They may have opened a door for hostility to come out and overtake your meeting. Or they may trigger habitual negative responses from others. Words are powerful. You can learn to use the right words at the right time and transform situations.  

Here are 3 powerful steps to foster collaboration.

1. Pre-frame

To pre-frame means to give people a new frame of reference before you even start the conversation. Essentially, you are showing others what to focus on. It is a powerful tool to make people receptive to change.

Here are some examples of what NOT to say:

·       “This is going to be challenging…”

·       “You’re not going to like it but we have to deal with this...”

·       “Here is the tough part...”

·       “I know you don’t have time for one more project but…”

·       “I don’t agree with it but here is what the President wants us to do…”

·       “There is one more useless report we are required to fill out from now on…”

·       “It probably won’t work, but we have to…”

Try this instead:

Before you bring up a new idea, you may say any of the following:

·       “I’d like to share something that will [fill in the blank with something the group wants]”. Choose strategically what will get people’s attention. Here are some examples that may be appropriate “will increase student success”, “will reduce the workload”, “will be highly valuable to the community”, “will position us to receive more grants”, “will be fun”, “will improve morale on campus”, etc.

·       “I have the pleasure to announce…”

·       “I am so excited to tell you that…”

·       “I have some great news to share!”

·       “A wonderful opportunity just fell on our lap!”

·       “It’s going to be so much fun to…”

By using a positive pre-frame, you can guide people to look for positive aspects and be much more likely to embrace your suggestions and agree to collaborate with you. You have the power to influence people’s reactions by choosing the words you use so choose wisely!

2. Inspire

To allow people to be mentally ready to collaborate and motivated to support you, you have to inspire them. Make sure you don’t say anything that sounds like blame or any kind of judgement about the present or the past.

Imagine that you call a meeting to identify the root of a problem and to understand what went wrong so that you can prevent it from happening again. Your intention is good but you suddenly sound like you are pointing fingers and people get defensive.

Here are some examples of what NOT to say:

·       “Why did you do this?”

·       “Who did this?”

·       “Who didn’t do such and such….?”

·       “You should have done this instead.”

·       “This shouldn’t have happened.”

These questions sound like accusations that will immediately make people defensive. Stay away from anything that sounds like blame and don’t make things personal. Talk about fact, not people.

You’ve probably heard this before but I can’t emphasize it enough: stay away from one particularly damaging word: SHOULD

When you say “you should”, people hear “you were wrong”, “you made a mistake”, “you’re not good enough” or “what you do is not good enough”.

Here is what you can do instead.

Get your focus away from what went wrong and who is to blame. Instead, put your attention on what the best case scenario could be in the future. The goal here isn’t to punish what happened before but to start fresh, blame-free, and guilt-free.

Keep in mind you are trying to get people who may not even report to you, to have a genuine desire to work with you. They are not forced to collaborate with you. They only will if they want to.

So start by creating and presenting a compelling vision of what you want to see happen. Paint an exciting picture of the outcomes you seek. Make sure to include benefits that people around the table care about, not just what you care about.

Ask questions to make people connect with your vision and expand it. Here are some examples.

·       “Imagine what would become possible if we could…?”

·       “What do you think students would appreciate most if we did…?”

·       “What problems would be eliminated if we…?”

·       “How happy would our President and our Chancellor be if we did this…?”

·       “What do you think are the largest benefits to this…?”

By guiding people’s thoughts in this positive direction, you will hear fewer objections. Keep in mind that complainers complain, change-averse people attempt to block change, and negative minds create problems, so it’s your job to break their habitual patterns and lead them where you want them to go.

3. Get them engaged

Now that they are excited about the vision, get them to talk about how to make it a reality. Don’t lecture them but let them tell you what they can – and will – do.

Even if you believe you know exactly who should do what, let people speak for themselves and don’t make assumptions. For example, don’t say: “Mary, I thought you would want to implement this idea because your department seems to be struggling.” Instead, ask “Mary, how do you think some of our departments could benefit from this idea?”

Note that I didn’t ask “Can departments benefit from this idea?” because she could say no and that would be the end of the conversation. Be mindful to avoid yes/no questions. Make your questions open-ended and start with “how” or “when” as often as possible.

Imagine that your idea is to invite someone from another department to join a committee because you really need to hear the other department’s perspective. You know some people may push back because they want to stay comfortable and don’t welcome new ideas.

Don’t ask “Can we invite Dr. X to participate in the committee?” because the answer could be no. Instead, you can ask “How can we get Dr. X’s input and insights for this project.” You can also ask “When can we invite Dr. X to join the conversation and help us?”

Words are powerful. The words you choose lead people in a particular direction. Make sure to take them where you want them to go.

Obviously, people will get off track if they want to, but at least, it won’t be your own words that derailed the conversation. The good news is you can redirect and refocus the conversation at any time. Practice what I explained above and you will soon master these three steps.

Remember to get people as engaged as possible.

Make sure your discussion leads to decisions made, next steps clearly identified (who will do what), a timeline, and follow-up activities to keep people accountable.

Acknowledge and reward efforts and accomplishments. Do not enable procrastination or avoidance because it would demotivate those who do a good job and hurt morale.

You can do this! Be inspirational, be fair, encourage, reward, foster engagement, and people will be more collaborative than ever before!

There is so much more I want to share with you! If you’d like to receive my monthly e-mail announcements about new articles and free training, click here to subscribe.

If you are interested in this topic, you will want to read this article too: “Why Giving Advice Hurts Your Ability to Influence People on Campus – And What to Do Instead”.

If you would like to work with me to gain more influence at work and develop strong professional relationships, click the button below to make an appointment for a complimentary call. I look forward to connecting with you!

About the author: Since 2010 Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits.  Audrey is the go-to Success Coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.