The power of the right three letter word: creating collaborative habits

Last week a facilitator I admire caught herself saying, ‘yes but…’.

She blushed, laughed uproariously - she has the best laugh - and self-corrected to ‘yes and’.

“...it takes a lifetime to re-train yourself, doesn’t it?” she observed, with a self-deprecating giggle.  

It was wonderful to see. Not everyone has the ability to self-correct in a group discussion.

She went on to build on the idea offered by one of the workshop participants, modelling why it’s worth shifting from ‘but’ to ‘and’. The ideas went on to flow and she reminded everyone of a basic, but profound, collaborative habit at the same time.

When did you first learn to be aware of the ‘but’ and change it to ‘and’?

Like any habit, it takes practice and vigilance. It’s one of the simplest, yet most powerful, changes that groups I work with embrace to shift their conversations from debate to dialogue. The ‘and’ is like those little connecting pieces in Lego that joins the bigger blocks. I’ve seen it help turn ‘my idea’ into ‘our idea’ time and time again.

Here’s something to try. Next time you’re working in a group, how about getting one of you to listen and observe the conversation for 5 or 10 minutes. Keep an ear out for how people respond to others ideas. Are there more ‘buts’ or ‘ands’? Tally up the numbers; there’s no need to identify who said what. Go through them as a group after the conversation. You might be surprised how well you’re doing, or how much practice you need.

If this exercise proves valuable for your team, how about making it a regular quick check in for your group. A monthly ritual, if you like.

I reckon you’ll find a whole heap of other phrases and words that are used unconsciously by the group that inhibit, rather than foster, collaboration.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about what else we can consciously practise to create better collaborative habits, a la James Clear.

What’s the most effective collaborative habit you’ve learnt and can share with others? I’d love to hear.

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