When too many people in a company lack collaborative skills there is a very low trust, high blame, un-supportive workplace. People are less open, so it is more difficult to solve problems. They avoid risk taking because if anything goes wrong someone will get blamed.

When IBM was picking their next generation of leaders, all the people they picked had a skill that IBM called "collaborative influence." It's the ability to get people to do things when you don't control their salary; i.e., they do so simply because you have a good relationship. When Bell Labs looked closely at the difference between their good employees and the real stars, they found that the stars were adept at building collaborative networks. They knew who they could call when they had a problem. Other people were willing to help out because of the relationships that had been built.


If you want to create a more collaborative environment throughout your company, or build more collaboration between HR and your clients, or if you simply want to boost your own career by increasing your collaborative influence, here are five skills guaranteed to make a big difference.

1. Collaborative Intention. This means, staying non-defensive and making a conscious personal commitment to seeking mutual gains in your relationships. This is the ability to stay calm when your relationship hits a bump, or someone makes a mistake or does something unexplainable or confusing. 

A boss was facing a hostile employee who was shouting at him for something the boss had done. Instead of getting defensive and attacking back or pulling rank, the boss was able to diffuse the situation by calmly responding, "John I can see that you're upset. Can you tell me more about this and help me better understand what's upsetting you. Then let's work together to figure out a good solution." The boss's response was very counter-intuitive; he wasn't defending himself, he was staying calm and asking for more information. When the employee started feeling heard, his demeanour changed and he moved from anger to problem solving. The key is remaining conscious of building mutual success and paying attention to your own blind spots.

2. Truthfulness. This means, committing to both speak and listen to the truth, and being able to create an atmosphere where it feels safe enough to raise difficult issues. The level of trust in any relationship is determined to a great extent by the amount of truth being told. It is referred to the ability and willingness to tell other people about what is going on inside of you, i.e. being more self-disclosing. 

One of the most important things you can do to improve the effectiveness of any organization is to increase the level of openness. It is impossible to solve problems if people aren't willing to talk about them. Creating an atmosphere of truthfulness also requires that people listen better. Listening is not simply shutting your mouth, but that's a great place to start. The two jobs of the listener are to create a safe environment for the speaker and to help the speaker feel understood. Continually summarize what you are hearing and feed it back to the speaker, checking for understanding about both the content and the emotional tone of the communication. 

3. Self-Accountability.  Understanding the choices we make through action or inaction, and taking responsibility for both the intended and unintended consequences of those choices. Most people believe, mistakenly, that their choices are narrow. People have more choice than they think. Many people forfeit choices without realizing that not choosing is also a choice. The way people make little decisions is a reflection of how they make bigger ones. The most effective thing people can do to feel more empowered is to change their belief system about how much choice they have in their lives. Beliefs that we have a lot of choice can mobilize people, while beliefs that we have little choice will paralyze people. A sense of influence over our own lives also makes undesirable events less demoralizing.

4. Self-Awareness. Committing to know yourself deeply and showing a willingness to deal with difficult interpersonal issues. Whether you want to improve a single relationship or change the culture of an entire organization, an important step is to increase people's self-awareness. The ability to make effective choices and live an authentic life depends to a great extent on a capacity to be self-reflective. 

The area of self awareness that has the greatest return on investment for a company is helping people become more aware of their own defensiveness. Defensive people are inauthentic and other people don't trust or like them. Some common examples of defensive behaviour are blaming and shaming, sarcasm, demanding to be right, playing "poor me," hearing only what you want to hear, all-or-nothing thinking, and withdrawing into deadly silence.