How to Help Your Teammate Hatch an Idea

The Satisfying Work of Relating

Conversation is Messy Business

Some of us find great joy in the details of our work: left alone to turn the block on the lathe or write the intro paragraph—we get a tad giddy. We know what we are doing (more or less), and the process is stimulating.

A friend with a VP-of-Meetings-type brain would often jab me with his love of meetings:

“Meetings are great. I don’t know why people hate them so. We get so much done.”

When he said this, I assumed they were great for him because he enjoyed telling others what to do. And his reports went and accomplished real stuff. Were meetings great for his reports? I have my doubts.

Many of us struggle to get that sense of getting stuff done with people. Conversation is a messy business that can typically lead to a wilderness of tangents and false starts rather than a place where the real stuff happens.

5 Steps to Successful Collaborations

Here are a few suggestions for helping each other hatch big ideas and get stuff done: 

  1. Listen. For real—really listen. And repeat back what your colleague says to make sure you get it and give yourself time to process what your colleague said. Resist the temptation to formulate a counter-argument while appearing to listen. Listen for potential. 
  1. Ask your colleague to say more. Gain clarity for yourself and your colleague. Work out the idea together through a volley of responses. 
  1. Breathe. That’s right, take a breath so you can stay in the moment and hear your colleague. They might do the same for you. 
  1. Use your words to precisely parse an idea. It’s easy to get sloppy and quickly dismiss ideas (and people, for that matter). Instead, tease out the potential idea you saw. Give it some kindling and fan it and get the fire going. 
  1. Say it out loud to get something done. Pulling together a scattered idea before a team helps everyone see it and respond. Grabbing the idea and saying it aloud can often feel like work accomplished. It feels that way because it is precisely that. 

Good Conversations Get Stuff Done

We do well to pay attention to what our colleagues are saying. And the more attention we pay, the more wealth of ideas and practical insights we might find. Some people work this way all the time:

“When we toss things back and forth, there is no compromise at all. That is when it is magic.”

-Millman, Debbie. How to think like a great graphic designer. (NY: Allworth Press, 2007). Emily Oberman & Bonnie Siegler/ Number 17, p.96

People are never tools or things we manipulate to achieve our desired end. But honoring each other by listening and talking—that’s how real stuff gets done in the real world.


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