When the going gets tough, when markets contract, when budgets decline, when promotion is rare, our instinctive response is to retreat and defend what we have. Parts of our brain that kept us alive in a more dangerous world respond vigorously to the threats we perceive. They compel us to withdraw from any circumstance where we could be vulnerable, such as a situation where we share our knowledge and resources in collaborating with another.
This response to threat can be so strong it’s barely a conscious process at all. The strength of our defensive reaction leaves us with a certainty that it’s unquestionably the right one.
But is it? Does our hasty retreat from collaboration serve us?
Perhaps the most effective response to scarcity and threat is the exact opposite, to collaborate, to share what we have, to form new teams, to focus on our strengths, and allow others to do on our behalf what they do best, even though that requires sacrifice. Then the whole may succeed on the bigger stage and our individual outcome may be better than if we’d acted alone.
Suppose it does serve us to collaborate: How do we make this happen? How do we take our people along with us?
One key is articulating a compelling future so that the long term gain seems worth the short term pain.
We need high levels of integrity and to seek that quality in others. To be trusted and so involved in the best opportunities, we need to be seen as a mature and honest collaborator.
We need the skills to work intelligently with the interests and values of all and balance these to optimise the whole for the ultimate gain of all.
Are our defensive responses to increased competition with colleagues, other departments, other organizations, other countries, the responses that should guide us? Or are we better to resist our primitive instincts and collaborate rather than defend? And if so, how?
How do you respond to competition?
Samantha Gluck says
Certainly, I shrink from collaboration in many instances because I feel the person I would partner with does not fit my personal style and flow. It’s good to collaborate with someone who has different talents and knowledge, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to partner with someone with different values and moral views, even if they seem not to have anything to do with the project. Personal values seep into everything we do. Do you think that is why many fear collaborating? They fear a “marriage” to a tyrant or incompetent?
I found this to be really interesting. I’ve thought a lot about how I sometimes compete, sometimes collaborate with others in my field. I struggle with when to do each, especially in tougher times when the resource pool shrinks.
There’s kind of a prisoner’s dilemma to collaboration. If both parties agree to collaborate, they both end up looking good. If only one party seems amenable to collaboration, it can be riskier. I’ve seen two reactions:
1) The collaborative mind wins. Why? Because he’s willing to put competitive aside for the client’s best interests, willing to find the best solution (wherever it is) and eager to be part of it, willing to invest in the relationship for the long term rather than focusing on short term gains.
2) The collaborative mind loses. Why? Because he’s seen as weak, not having the necessary resources to do things independently. and therefore not worthy of consideration.
If you’re the one who initially suggests collaboration rather than competition, the outcome often depends on the reaction of your competitor. Tough call, and like I said, I struggle with it often.