I recently read Matthew Syed’s book Rebel Ideas.  It’s about how diversity in how we think is essential to solve complex problems.  If a problem is simple, we can select the best individual to deal with it.  But if a problem is complex, we need a group of people who are different from each other in how they think, to come up with potential solutions – their synergy creates collective intelligence. 

This got me thinking about how you get a group of diverse individuals with very different backgrounds, experiences, ways of thinking, and personalities to work together. 

How you interact with others can be a blocker or an enabler to working collaboratively with them.  If you can’t build rapport with people different from you, you won’t get the benefits of their Rebel Ideas. 

It’s easier to build rapport with people who are like you, people who have similar backgrounds, experiences, interests and personality.  It’s much more difficult to build rapport with people who are different – especially if they are different in how they think.  Believe it or not, it can be easier to bridge demographic differences than cognitive ones. 

Here are my top tips to building rapport and collaboration:

  1. When you join a meeting, build rapport by making eye contact, smiling, using people’s names and talking about non-contentious topics.
  2. Ask questions about what they have been doing, get them talking.  Showing an interest in other people demonstrates respect for them. 
  3. Listen to the answers and look for what you have in common – we get on more easily with people who are like ourselves, so finding some common ground helps to build a sense of connection.
  4. Find areas on which you can agree, build on their ideas, give positive feedback (“I really like that  suggestion…..”).  When you disagree, use “and” not “but” to express your disagreement, as this feels less like a stand-off
  5. Ensure your tone of voice and your body language is consistent with what you are saying – if you say to someone “that’s an exciting idea” but say it in a monotone and look bored, they will believe you are faking. 
  6. Balance advocacy (promoting your own position) with enquiry (finding out about theirs).  Genuine collaboration is two-way, with each person being willing to change their mind.  High quality behaviours in advocacy and enquiry will get a better result.  This means explaining your thinking, giving examples, sharing your reasoning, seeking their views, probing their thinking, and encouraging challenge.
  7. Act in a way that helps other people maintain their self-esteem – don’t criticise, or make them feel they are wrong, don’t mock them or engage in “banter”, don’t interrupt or talk over them.  Instead, ask their opinion, encourage them, show their concerns are important to you. 

As well as generic tips, there are specific tips for people with different personality styles.  Once you are aware of your own style, you can adapt it to connect with others and collaborate more effectively. 

You can read about the four styles of interacting, together with lots more tips for getting on with other people, in How to Get On with Anyone.

Image from Gerd Altmann, Pixabay