Collaboration is a big buzzword nowadays. It’s all about how we can “work together, pooling our combined resources into some bigger than the individual parties” (sounds very baptistic to me).

Honestly, it’s something I struggle with. It seems I have two “default” settings in my brain:
– expert: I come as one with “expertise” in whatever field of discussion.
– empty: I have nothing to contribute and just absorb in a conversation.

Collaboration is that middle ground. It’s in between expert and empty where we all have a place on this continuum. But it’s trying to find where I stand on that continuum so I get a sense of how much I contribute. Too often, I’ve seen people who lean more towards “expert” in a discussion where really, what they contribute has little to no significance. But there are times when I see people who think they’re empty but really have valuable insights to offer. (Perhaps that speaks more towards a person’s sense of humility vs. arrogance.)

What I struggle with is when I can significantly contribute but not go towards “expert” when really I’m not. Do I assume I have an expertise in something in which people are looking for insights from me? (By the way, I don’t the premise that everyone’s opinion is equal. Some people’s opinions in specific topics carry far more weight than others; those are the ones I’m looking for.) There are other times when I’m expected to be the “expert” in a discussion when the participants already know just as much as I do (if not more). In those moments, it’s a matter of drawing those insights out (that’s where coaching comes in i.e. I don’t come as an expert in a field, but I work at drawing out those insights, even for my own learning).

Collaboration can sometimes be tricky in navigating. I know I still have a lot to learn in doing it well. But there is much learning that can take place when we’re willing to give and take not based on what we think we can offer, but with what we really have.

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