Collaboration: The Essential Emotions

Successful collaboration is built on a
high level of emotional literacy. Without the capacity to generate and
sustain certain feelings, our ability to collaborate authentically with
others isn’t possible. By the time
we reach adulthood, our emotional repertoire has become habituated. 
This, of course, is fueled by our thinking process which is also fixed
into patterns.  Beliefs are the engine below stoking emotions that are
triggered by outside events and social interactions.

Depending on the culture in which your
thinking, beliefs and emotions were cultivated – you are either
swimming upstream or downstream by the time you reach the workplace. 
Style and personality also play an important role in the mix.

Increasingly, today’s workplace “models” are trending towards
collaboration.  In many cases, management hasn’t made it beyond the
buzzword – another case of language and practice being miles apart. 

But there are growing examples of
companies that are really serious about shaping environments and
culture towards more collaboration.  Beyond philosophy, these
organizations understand that without collaboration, innovation is not
possible.  Demographic and generational forces and the power of social
media and sharing are also driving the trend towards collaboration.

What’s Missing?

far, I haven’t read anything about the emotional skills that form the
essential structure of collaborative relationships.   The legacy of
hierarchical, authoritarian and competition-driven cultures isn’t
collaboration friendly.  The emotions that many put down as soft are the very emotions that create the core of effective collaborative interaction.

Most of us are not schooled
in the practice of the kinds of emotions that support collaboration.
 We don’t get recognition or promotions for displaying appreciation or
equanimity towards others – but these are the very feelings that promote
an atmosphere of comfort, inclusion, creativity and trust.

Recent work in neuroscience has shown that social-emotional learning goes on throughout the adult life.   Our early emotional learning does not have to determine how we relate to others.  The beauty of the discovery of neuroplasticity gives all of us the freedom to work consciously to change our emotional habits.

Since the
brain is a social organ – and emotional contagion is real, how we relate
in groups is always reinforcing and reshaping our cognitive landscape. 
Most of the time it is being done outside of our conscious awareness. 
Developing collaborative skills requires a high degree of emotional
awareness and exceptional competencies of self-management.

The very good
news is that our potential for learning and re-learning is open-ended. 
Just as collaborative learning cultures are a constant work in progress
so are we. We can learn to cultivate the emotions that
contribute to the collaborative process. The more that we familiarize
ourselves with how these emotions work in other areas of our lives – the more we can practice these emotions with those engaged in our collaborative efforts.


  • Empathy
    No question about it – the big-ticket emotion that provides the
    foundation for collaboration, sharing and openness.  Developing our
    skill in understanding what is important to others is critical. Allowing
    ourselves to be interested in and touched by other’s experience is
    essential to the art of collaboration.
  • Patience
    – An emotion in short-supply these days.  This powerful emotion (and
    skill) serves us in every single area of our lives – and is crucial when
    we strive to meet others in an open and nonjudgmental place.  Patience
    is also one of the most valuable emotions in our ability to listen –
    authentically – to others.
  • Curiosity
    – I consider this one of the “neutral” emotions.  You don’t have to
    like or agree with someone’s point of point to demonstrate curiosity.  
    Many people have turned off their curiosity antennae. They’re inundated,
    overloaded and even bored. They’ve heard it all.  The natural curiosity
    of human nature suffers. Curiosity is a wonderful asset – and a spark
    to other emotions like enthusiasm and wonder.
  • Forgiveness
    – Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes they are even biggies. Unless we
    are engaged in a deeper understanding of where we stand in terms of
    forgiving and letting go (that doesn’t have to mean condoning or denying
    our own feelings) it’s hard to work and collaborate with others
    effectively. Old emotional baggage will resurface unless we are on top
    of it.
  • PassionWhat are you passionate about? 
    Some people are passionate about the process and potential of
    collaboration.  Whatever it is – it’s likely to be a valuable asset in
    your collaboration skills tool kitEmotions are contagious– so your passion is catchy within the circles in which you collaborate.
  • Appreciation
    – Gratitude goes hand in hand with appreciation.  Both require us to
    step back and take a deeper look at what’s right and working for us (and
    others).  These emotions are perspective shifters – sometimes
    on the spot.  Appreciation works magic in groups because it is the polar
    opposite of judgment. Judgment distances us from others – it creates
    artificial separation. Appreciation is a joining emotion – even if it’s self-appreciation.
  • Confidence – It’s essential to bring confidence to the table.  
    Confidence is a very self-empowered state and it can be inspiring to
    others. It can lift a group’s energy. But we have to be aware that the
    ways in which we express our confidence don’t alienate others –
    especially if our stylistic tendencies are more assertive. It
    is important to be aware of how other’s take in our behavior when we are
    expressing our version of confidence.  Keep in mind that the goal of
    true collaboration is to invite the full participation of everyone. 
  • Optimism – Collaborative efforts can be hard work. As blogger Gwyn Teatro beautifully states it, “(Collaboration)
    is a labor of love ~ deeper and more focused. It holds more tension and
    requires us to listen to each other and communicate on a variety of
    levels through diverse means.”
      Sometimes the natural cycles of
    conflict arise when we are working through difficult terrain with
    others.  Often well-intentioned people can get stuck when trying to
    communicate, especially when decisions need to be made.  Maintaining our
    optimism through those challenging rough patches takes work – but the
    sustaining qualities of optimism can keep us emotionally afloat.
  • CalmnessAh…the
    elusive emotion – especially in the face of dealing with others in
    important and difficult circumstances.  Calmness is the great enabler of
    patience – and in fact, of all emotional awareness.  There’s abundant
    research that shows that we cannot think clearly (using the so-called “executive center”)
    of our pre-frontal cortex when we have activated our limbic system’s
    flight or fight response.  Developing knowledge of what triggers us
    emotionally is the key to cultivating more calmness in our thinking and
    approach to others.

of these emotions, critical to successful collaboration, are within our
power to habituate.  Take stock and identify what are the dominant
emotions you feel on a typical work day.   Understand that
you’ve habituated these feelings every day through cognitive and
behavioral reinforcement.

 If you believe
in the potential and transformative effects of collaboration, these
skills will serve you at every level of your collaborative
interactions.  The beauty is that they will also transform every other
area of your life.  It’s a process – and it’s doable.

As always, your comments, questions, subscriptions, tweets and shares (whew) are much appreciated. 

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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