Collaboration: what it means to me and to the Greens

Nearly all the candidates in this election are describing themselves as "collaborative." I'm one of them. I want to write a bit about what it means to me, and what it would look like in reality.

First, let's lay a bit of groundwork. There are five main strategies of working together, and each of them can be legitimate in different scenarios: competition, avoidance, accommodation, compromise, and collaboration. Competition is the typical I-win-you-lose, I'm-right-you're-wrong argument. Avoidance is dancing around the topic without addressing it. Accommodation is doing everything the other person says: you-win-I-lose. Compromise and collaboration are similar - there is an understanding of some give and take that takes place. The main difference is that, in a compromising relationship, you may be expected to give up some of your values in order to come to an agreement. Collaboration is where the needs and values of everyone are brought to the table, with clarity and honesty, and solutions are discussed with all the needs and values in mind.

What collaboration isn't: it isn't doing everything the other person says without regard for your own values or needs—that's accommodation. It isn't coming to the table with a solution already in mind, and convincing everyone else that it's the only way to go—that's competition. It doesn't work when people have hidden agendas (usually by someone who has a solution in mind already). It isn't saying, oh yes I'll listen, and then... only pretend to listen. It also isn't necessarily going to make everyone happy—other people's happiness isn't something we have direct control over.

What collaboration is: it's often messy-looking, with lots of people talking about conflicting needs and wants. It's often time-consuming and emotionally draining, because people may bring to the table diverse needs and wants and want them addressed. It often brings about a more well-rounded, better-thought out solution that works for more people—a happier end-product.

There may also be constraints, and those should be clear to all parties at the outset, if known ahead of time, or as soon as possible if constraints are discovered through the process. Time is a typical constraint on collaborative processes. In the real world, you can't take forever to solve a problem. So setting a time, and doing your best to ensure everyone understands the time constraints, is important. For other types of problems there are other technical constraints, such as financial, or the availability of materials or humanpower. Or, you may be setting a hard values-based boundary: for example, the valuing of inclusivity leads to the strict non-tolerance of personal attacks and slurs.

(This isn't a cop-out for making sure that the constraints aren't also systemic barriers to certain voices. I think constraints should be examined and pushed. I may explore that in a different post.)

So what would that look like?

If you've met me before, you'll note I'm usually very quiet. I tend to use my energy for listening, and speaking up only if I think a particular view point is missing. I ask questions to clarify facts and try to discern what's important to the other parties. When I do speak, I do so to assert and state my values, my ideas, and my assumptions. I work very hard to honour the values and needs of others as much as my own—what I value isn't the only thing that matters. I work very hard to dispose of the notion that my solution is only solution, or even that there exists one single correct solution at all. I say I work very hard because it's hard work. We're not brought up to know this, and for sure I'll make mistakes, but here I lay down my intentions anyway.

Intentions is probably the biggest piece. For truly effective collaboration, it helps if all parties arrive with the intention to collaborate. That being said, sometimes all it takes is for one party to enter with the intention to collaborate and set the tone. Never underestimate the power of one person's intention.


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