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Why Collaborative Teammates Sometimes Speak for Each Other

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 12:00
Collaborative Teams Speak for Each Other

“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw away the bad ones.”
- Linus Pauling, Chemist, 2-time Nobel Prize winner

His brilliance aside, Pauling’s quote leaves some unanswered questions for those of us pursuing “elegant collaboration” – i.e., interacting in the best possible manner with the least waste to accomplish an intended purpose and/or produce an exact result. For example: How do we determine which ideas are good and which are bad?

Of course, Pauling never should have answered that question for us. As providers of conferencing and collaboration services and solutions, we believe every team of colleagues should find this answer by working together.

But we can address at least one question Pauling didn’t cover: When?

The answer is: After those ideas are expressed to the team in an open, constructive collaborative environment.

Which isn’t as easy as it may seem because of the final issue highlighted in consultant Matthew E. May's latest book Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking: Self-Censoring.

Self-Censoring in Meetings Suppresses Productivity

As regular readers know, in a series of posts we’ve been exploring how each of the thinking flaws identified in May’s work translate into what we see as obstacles to efficient and effective collaboration. In our second installment, we summarized Self-Censoring this way:

“When one or more members of a business team rejects, denies, stifles, squelches, strikes, silences and otherwise withholds their own ideas from discussion or consideration without first consulting other team members.”

In the context of collaboration, we explained that Self-Censoring can lead to Self-Muting:

“When one or more participants in a meeting rejects, denies, stifles, squelches, strikes, silences and otherwise withholds their own ideas from discussion or consideration when given the opportunity within the agenda to share with other participants.”

But why would capable colleagues keep ideas to themselves? Is it a self-confidence thing?

No. As usual with obstacles to collaboration rooted in thinking flaws, the issue is neurological. As May describes in Brain Game, the “mental mechanisms by which we learn from our mistakes can and will automatically censor our present and future desire to explore and create.” In the context of meetings, our brains anticipate the potential embarrassment of offering a “bad” idea and predispose us to avoid this risk by keeping our mouths shut.

So, Self-Muting is an unconscious, internal process occurring on an individual level, which means transformative thinkers determined to innovate and grow their organizations, businesses and themselves overcome this obstacle by working together.

How to Fix Self-Muting with Collaboration: Buddystorming

In our last Brain Game post, we advocated defeating the “Not Invented Here” (NIH) syndrome – i.e., the tendency of teams to resist or dismiss ideas from outside the group – with a technique we dubbed “terrainstorming.” Instead of individual participants in brainstorming sessions looking inside their own heads for ideas, they are required to find at least a portion of their ideas outside the boundaries of the organization – e.g., the surrounding “terrain” of the industry or relevant markets.

In a similar fashion, buddystorming redirects the process of brainstorming and complements methods like terrainstorming. Instead of teammates communicating their ideas – wherever those ideas originated – themselves, each is assigned a “buddy” whose job is to present their colleague’s thoughts and vice versa. Making these assignments anonymous isn’t required but may produce the best results.
This fix is based on a concept from psychology called “Self-Distancing,” which helps people cope with problems by separating the challenges they face from their sense of identity. In buddystorming, the person offering the ideas, even advocating for the ideas, doesn’t have a close feeling of ownership, which should not only short-circuit Self-Muting, but the pangs of NIH, too.

May closes Brain Game with the chapter about fixing Self-Censoring. So, we’ll conclude our series inspired by his work with this post about overcoming Self-Muting. And we’ll leave you with our mantra for ensuring elegant collaboration through any mode of business communication -- voice, visual, virtual or some mix of all three: Always think before you meet.

This post is part of our Brain Game series exploring insights into neuroscience and how our brains effect our collaboration at work.

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