Tuesday 1 July 2008

Stop. Collaborate and Listen

Photo by Tio used under the flickr Creative Commons license

As a crippling head cold ends and I roll off my couch and on to a new project in the far north of Sydney, I've taken my sick days to think through what happens when I start a new gig. Doing this at ThoughtWorks is no different to the decade I spent contracting. It's all about walking in to a new space with new faces and working out how to make a difference.

Although I may be the first person to realise, it is now clear that Vanilla Ice was talking about consulting when he sang the wise words...

Stop. Collaborate and Listen.

There is no better set of rules to follow when you are entering unknown territory, whether they take you with open arms or have been told to have you there. Let's break it down...

No matter how brilliant you are or how much you know you can contribute to a client, don't open with that line. Stop yourself from walking in to the room and telling everyone they are wrong and that you know a better way. The fact is that until you have a good understanding of what is going on, you have no idea how to improve it. Some people are able to understand this better and get going pretty fast. You will still notice that they hold back, even for a split second.

If your situation is like mine and you spend your entire working life on teams then collaboration should show it's face in your working ethos. Work together with people to change the landscape, achieve the goals or to teach and learn. You have a common goal. Work together with others to get there. If you pull in a different direction to those around you then you'll hold everything up or go nowhere. Of course, none of this means that you should not say what you think is right or suggest ideas but do it with the common goal in mind.

and Listen.
Listening to people and reacting to them as you work with them is the key to gaining trust and influencing any situation. Listening does not mean saying nothing until they stop talking and then talking about what you want to say. Listening means hearing what people say, even if you don't agree with it. In order to change minds, you must first understand what you are trying to change.

None of this means that you shouldn't try to make changes. If you know a better way to do something then it is your professional responsibility to make that heard, even if no one listens. The thing is that no one will listen to you if you walk straight in the door and start telling everyone how stupid they are. I've witnessed brilliant people go down in flames because they couldn't build trust. They insisted on being given control. Influence and trust are gained through building relationships. Think about the people you listen to. They will all be people you know and trust. They will rarely be the stranger who just walked in the door.

Be sincere, if you are really there to help and not just score genius-points then people will see that. You lose nothing by taking the time and effort to show them that you are a good person who they can rely on.

If Vanilla Ice doesn't work for you then maybe you could continue listening to Eminem's Low, Down, Dirty.

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