Fireside Chat: Collaboration and Communication

Collaboration and communication both begin with the letter “C” and so does the word conflict. As we think about or even experience collaboration, we learn first-hand that everyone in our group or team has a different perspective. We see things through different lenses. That is what makes collaboration rich and exciting. At the same time it is our different lenses that create the potential for conflict unless we stop for a moment, spot the conflict (what we are
seeing and experiencing), and be open to receiving and understanding the different perspective. It does not mean we have to change our viewpoint – just be open to receiving other perspectives.  When we are open, we are more receptive, we expand, and we grow. That is where the growth is in collaboration.

We all are the same. We all have a different viewpoint, a different way of doing things, a different method to solve problems or issues, a different cultural experience. I could go on and on about differences and that is where conflict can arise – in the differences. As Tom Crum states, “The quality of our lives depends not on whether or not we have conflicts, but on how we respond to them.”

Conflict can be subtle and very passive aggressive or conflict can be “In your face”, New Jersey style. Having lived in many parts of the country from NJ, to the mountains in the west, to the southwest, to the south, I learned how to live in different cultures and to understand different forms of communication and styles of conflict. I was used to the direct in your face style of conflict however, living in the south, that direct style of conflict just would not be appropriate.

Communication is another way we can experience conflict through the collaborative process. The conflict can arise from our different communication styles.  That is, how we receive and how we send communication can cause conflict. Let me give you an example of different communication styles or preferences with respect to collaboration.

The other day, I was having an impromptu conversation with two graduate students. One was a Gen X with business/industry experience and the other a millennial coming straight through from an undergraduate program. Both were in the same department and working on doctoral degrees.  I engaged them in a conversation about collaboration.  What I learned was that Gen X with industry experience had a different understanding with respect to expectations in how to communicate and collaborate with other generations especially with Boomers. Boomers like the face-to-face means of communicating and collaborating. Millennials prefer other means of communication. From our conversation, it became clear to me that different generations have expectationsthat other generations should meet their expectations and preference style in communication. Communication is key to collaboration. As Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication.”

The Gen X person was very clear and stressed the importance of collaboration. “Collaboration is an essential skill in the workplace and that you cannot solve all the problems by yourself.” Both students told me how Millennials perceive collaboration differently.   The Millennial stated that Millennials collaborate using technology for example on google drive. In so doing, each person can work at different hours; people can do their own thing, and isolation can become an issue. Millennials are collaborating when they add to the document or conversation in google drive. The Gen X had a different perspective. “Collaboration looks different today as a result of technology”.  Collaboration happens best when team members “work in person” and not remotely. The Gen X student left me with this thought, “Bigger better ideas come through sharing knowledge and the end result is more innovation.”

What is clear is – as we engage in collaboration, it is important to understand the expectation preferences of each team member’s communication style. Perhaps a hybrid model will evolve to include the best of each generation.

What is important is that each generation wants respect and if we start with that premise, then Collaboration and Communication will begin with a big letter “C” and conflict with a small letter “c”.