Collaboration and teamwork never stop being important—but why is it sometimes so tricky? When we come together for tasks, we have many dynamics at play. We need to communicate our ideas, clarify details, and make sure everyone’s on track toward the same collective goal. At the same time, we need to build relationships that work, and which support our joint effort: a blinkered focus on the task itself doesn’t always make for great teamwork.
Perhaps you can recall a time where you’ve been ‘in the zone’ per se, sharing a great idea of your own with the team. As you describe a concept or knowledge you’re passionate about, someone jumps in and cuts you off.
“Actually, that brilliant workshop idea you’re talking about—that happened on a Tuesday, not a Wednesday.”
Or “You said John’s blue shirt, I think you mean his green shirt.”
What’s going on here? Not only have you been cut off, but seemingly, you’ve probably felt a bit hurt about something that was completely trivial.
The reasons why won’t always be the same across situations. Yet, when we think about trust and relationships, it’s clearly not productive.
Why ego suspension?
There will always be points of contention when you bring people together as a team. Because we strive for diverse ideas and different opinions, it’s only natural. But it’s when, and how, we choose to oppose others that makes a real difference.
Essentially, there are times when we need to put our collaborative relationships before the hard details of our task—the ‘content’ at hand. As Robin Dreeke describes it in his book, The Code of Trust, we need to suspend our egos. And in these two examples, you will see why the laws of influence say exactly the same thing.
The “Yes, but…” Scenario
Lucy has recently joined the sales team for SoupCompany‘s newest product launch. They are targeting a brand new market in Jamaica, and Lucy has happened to live there before. As they brainstorm, she thinks of her past experience that really captures how Jamaican consumers in this town make purchase decisions. But as she’s relating her Jamaican shopping experience, her boss Fred cuts in.
“Yes, but my business model has tested very well with consumers.”
In this scenario, he’s just put his foot on the brakes—he has brought everything to a sharp halt—by opposing her. Some would say unnecessarily, some might argue it was necessary but insensitively put. Either way, Lucy is irritated and no longer feels like she’s in a safe environment for sharing ideas. She’s probably feeling a bit embarrassed and resentful toward Fred.
The Ego Suspension Scenario
On another day, maybe even in a different workplace, another Lucy is describing her story. For argument’s sake, let’s say that this time, Fred has also lived in the same Jamaican town. He spots some slight errors in her story and wants to ensure their ideating doesn’t go off too far in the wrong direction.
This Fred understands that his employees sometimes make mistakes, but as a leader, he is responsible for handling it sensitively. Rather than “Yes, but…” or “You’re wrong”, he starts with a relationship perspective, which you can see in the picture below.
Rather than showing Lucy (and the entire sales team) that ‘he knows better’, Fred chooses to connect instead or empathize instead.
He, therefore, takes a moment to think.
“Is this idea going to seriously jeopardize our sales strategy?”
“Is this mistake really critical enough for me to risk embarrassing Lucy?”
Andin this scenario, turns out it wasn’t relevant. Fred suspended his ego and when she was done, he got his chance to contribute. They work smoothly as thinking partners because he realized there was a better way.
Over To You
Clearly, there will be times where inaccuracies or misinformation put quality at stake. If Fred had realized that Lucy was very far off the mark, tactful and diplomatic use of the Oppose style might have been relevant. But my takeaway argument is this: relationships are important. Slamming on the brakes may—in lots of cases—be a last resort, and if you choose to oppose people with counterarguments, timing is key.
If the right time does crop up—let’s say a customer has become upset with Lucy—there is frequently a better way to present your point of view. For instance, “Do you see any improvements you could make next time?” “Shall we talk about the situation?” or “Is it alright if I tell you about my reservations?”
What are your thoughts on ego suspension? In what situations do you feel relationships come first? Tell me an experience you’ve had where you’ve chosen ‘a better way’ effectively!