The Art of Collaboration

When someone comes to us looking for support or advice when deciding to make an important change in their lives, we are often flattered, feeling like we are seen as trustworthy and reliable, perhaps even an expert in a given area. When we get this feeling, our first reaction is to act accordingly, giving advice and direction on how the individual can take action. We paint a masterful map, clearly stating what the person has to do to reach their objective.

If they fail to take action, we feel frustrated, wondering why they won’t listen to our advice, wondering why they keep needing our support when the path is so clearly laid out. Out of anger, we may temporarily ignore them or resort to tough love. We may try to manipulate them using bribes, threats, or ultimatums. We may even take responsibility for them, filling out forms or making phone calls on their behalf. As the expert, we feel like we know what is best and we won’t let our good advice go down the drain.

So how do we help someone change when they seem to be resisting all of our well-intended efforts? Collaborate with them.

When asked for advice, we need to keep ourselves in check. Our egos will tell us we are an authority, and perhaps we are a top authority in a particular area, but this will not help the individual change unless it is presented in a spirit of collaboration. Collaboration is like a dance. We give and take, meeting the person where they are, guiding the flow of the dance while remaining in sync with one another. The goal is to guide them toward action, not force them into submission.

To use another metaphor, we must be like travel agents of change. We may be experts on the matter, but we can never know what kind of trip will be best for the individual until we collaborate with them. Even when the plans are set and the trip is booked, it is not our job to go on the trip with them. If things get rocky on the trip they can call us for support, but it is not our responsibility to fly out to rescue them.

People need the space to feel empowered when making changes. When we become the confrontational expert, we disempower them, making them feel incompetent. When we collaborate with them, guiding the change-process, we empower them to take responsibility for changing, giving them the ability to see the small rewards accumulate by their own volition. As these rewards start to accumulate, motivational momentum snowballs into action.

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