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About 18 years ago, I found myself in a conflict at work. The friction had been going on for some time, and I had sought advice from my manager on various occasions regarding the circumstance. I remember one conversation I had with my manager at my annual review. It impacted me, and although seemingly unrelated, it continues to drive the way I think about collaboration. It went like this:

“How is the conflict going?” asked my manager.

I said, “Good. That problem seems to have gone away.” 

My manager said, “Great! How did that happen?” 

I paused and said, “I just cared more.” 

My manager said, “It’s like that saying goes, ‘they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’”  

When I think about the entire conflict, I don’t remember the stressful details well, and I can’t give you specifics regarding how it started or progressed. Because I can recall this short discussion like it was yesterday, I believe that I am meant to remember that caring for other people speaks more than anything else.

I have found that caring is inextricably linked to business, regardless of industry, company, or leader. Company culture, creativity, and collaboration can’t reach their full potential without caring. 

That conversation specifically altered the way that I view collaboration. I am now a firm believer that a significant component of cooperation is caring, and without an element of care, the capacity for achievement is limited. Unfortunately, I think a leader who cares can receive unfair associations such as being flawed, weak, too soft, unstable, or fragile. Sometimes caring is even represented as a “woman’s thing.” 

Through my experiences, I’ve witnessed heightened success when caring is the foundation of collaborative efforts. Suppose effort is put toward making caring a staple in a company’s collaborative process. In that case, its leaders and employees can leverage the power of caring to make the company a paragon of its industry.      

4 ways caring is a part of collaboration

Collaboration is at the core of any business, and it helps companies gain strength in competitive waters and maintain an upward trajectory regarding innovation and quality customer relations. Effective collaboration is based on caring, refining processes, re-thinking technology, or questioning the norm. Caring affects collaboration in four ways, even if we may not realize its power, influence, or function at the time.

Building consensus

Consensus building, minimizing friction, and creating solidarity are a part of the collaborative process. It’s not always appropriate to take the time for this, and of course, consensus building is situationally dependent. When there is time to build consensus, and in most situations, caring is not a sideline plan B but should be at the forefront of your process. Caring about the opinions and sometimes wild or outrageous contributions of others is essential to consensus and effective collaboration. You’re not asking the room to agree on everything, just something, whether that’s a process, a final idea, how to get there, what to do once you’re there, or what to change. If your goal is to collaborate and reach a consensus, people need to know they were listened to, their opinions were cared for, and their position was validated along the way. Guiding a group to find a commonality starts with listening and caring. 

Listening with empathy

Listening is critical to collaboration. Maryam Banikarim, Chief Marketing Officer of Hyatt, stresses that “to care for people so they can be their best” should be at the heart of your business. “We say that empathy + action = care,” says Banikarim.1 Listening with empathy will allow team members to feel comfortable and inspired to collaborate and contribute in the best way they can. Banikarim says, “Leaders have to practice the lost art of listening more than they speak. Frequently. In groups and one-on-one. Formally and informally. Digitally and passing in the hallways. An ongoing dialogue, sharing perspectives and insights, that becomes the bedrock of positive, collaborative culture.” We can learn a lot from her perspective about how the way we empathetically listen can provide a strong foundation for collaboration. All of those small moments of “listening” and “care” add up to something much bigger. It can make collaboration more natural (and prosperous) rather than forced participation, leading to lackluster results.

Finding mutual benefit

We’ve all experienced employers, leaders, or team members that take, take, take! We get so focused on wins and losses rather than focusing on collaborating to find a mutual benefit that it can take over everything. When collaborative efforts seem one-sided, grand ideas seem unappreciated, or the outcome seems too far away to notice the impact, a team will feel less compelled to give their best effort. A caring culture creates an environment of trust and respect, which fosters mutually beneficial conversations. When employees trust that you care about them and their futures, they’ll more freely collaborate. Just think, Amazon’s Prime service started when an Amazon engineer put the idea in an employee suggestion box. What if he never felt comfortable sharing that idea? What if he didn’t feel the link between his success and the company’s success? Look for ways to creatively expand the pie to show your team that you care about their collaborative efforts and that your conversations are mutually beneficial, even though they’re working to benefit the business.

Being flexible yet firm

We must be flexible and adjust our collaborative style, tailoring every round table to the current topic, circumstance, or goal. Being collaborative calls for standing up for what is right when you are backed into a corner, which requires caring about the outcome or result.  When someone continues to ask for something unrealistic, sometimes an “I’m sorry, that is something that we cannot do” is the most collaborative thing you can say. If you or your team doesn’t care enough about your company’s mission, they won’t find the collaborative energy they need to take a stand, make a suggestion, or adapt to others’ ideas for the business’s good. Caring about your purpose and mission dramatically impacts your results and the energy in the room. Whatever you’re signed up to do, the foundation of your goal should propel your team forward with motivation when they come to a creative block or experience a lack of drive. When you care, you find the energy to stand up for yourself or remain agile to find a good balance between ideas to benefit the greater good.

I just cared more. When you start to care and become vulnerable enough to show that you care, it can open doors, expand possibilities, and lay the groundwork for a collaborative process that defies odds and achieves results. Let’s rethink how we view a caring leader and make caring a present and indispensable component of our collaborative efforts.