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How to Be a Better Collaborator in the Workplace

Jul 9, 2020

As workplaces shift from top-down hierarchies to team-based models, collaboration is becoming an increasingly important soft skill. Collaborating with coworkers requires empathy, the ability to communicate clearly, problem-solving skills, and accountability, according to Robert Half International.

By learning how to be a better collaborator, you'll be setting yourself up for career success.

Today's leaders value collaboration.

In today's work environments, successful business management isn't just about giving direction and making decisions. It's also about knowing how to motivate, empower, and delegate responsibilities to the members of your team, who might come from different departments and functions in the organization.

Further Reading: What is laissez-faire leadership?

In 2019, LinkedIn scoured its users' profile data to pinpoint which skills employers were most after; collaboration was the third most in-demand soft skill. And in Deloitte's 2019 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 65 percent of respondents said that 21st-century leadership calls for the ability to lead through influence, which means cultivating better collaboration across the organization.

An example of this kind of collaboration, Robert Half International notes, is when a project involves an organization's design, marketing, and user experience departments. Deloitte researchers found that the cross-functional team approach to business operations makes organizations perform better.

Improving your collaboration skills.

Being a better collaborator is all about improving the way you relate with your teammates—it's about being attentive, curious, flexible, and respectful. One good way to work on your collaboration skills is volunteering to join work projects outside your comfort zone. When you aren't the go-to expert, you have to rely on the other members of your team. It's an opportunity to learn new skills, but it's also an opportunity to learn how to appreciate the input of others.

One of the most important emotional skills to develop for successful workplace collaboration is empathy—the ability to experience, understand, and share someone else's feelings. To help build your capacity for empathy, Psychology Today suggests watching a movie—but instead of paying attention to the plot, try to discern the thoughts and feelings behind the characters' actions. You could also do this while reading a novel.

Leveraging team members' talents.

All good collaboration starts with empathy—understanding and appreciating every team member's point of view. After that, the task is to leverage each member's unique skills and complement them with your own. To achieve this, Robert Half International recommends putting the needs of the group ahead of your own, asking team members for their input, and giving support and credit to coworkers whose ideas are stronger than yours.

Justin Bariso, author of EQ Applied, notes in Inc. that trust is essential to successful collaboration. Being empathetic and helpful and offering sincere, specific praise, he writes, are important ways to build trust. Bariso also notes the importance of active listening, which involves asking questions and making every effort to understand the answers while reserving judgment. Listening actively shows that you value the other person's ideas, knowledge, and experience.

Earning a business degree can help build your leadership skills, and learning how to be a better collaborator can help you accelerate your career development. It's exactly the type of skill today's workplace demands.

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