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January 2017
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September 2017

So you want people to work with you?

When dealing with workplace colleagues you come into task conflict with before you settle in for a good argument about how a project should proceed..stop arguing. We all have these heated discussions and more times than not we come away with a defeat more than a victory.
Examining how different teams work together I was analysing some data when I noticed an interesting wrinkle. When it comes to successful team collaboration those who asked whoever
opposed their idea to explain how their counter proposal worked in practice were more likely to have a successful persuasive outcome than those who asked about the reasons for the opposition. This struck me as an interesting persuasion technique but it needed research support.
I found that support. Not in the research about how people work together but in the research of how we have political arguments. Fernback et al. (2013) looking at opinion polarisation with respect to political policies found that people are ridiculously overconfident about their understanding of complex public policy issues. With a high degree of self-assurance people can give reasons as to why they support or do not support high profile public policies and their self-assurance gets stronger afterwards.
Reasons are highly selective and this selectivity supports people's need to choose the reasons which strongly support the opinions they hold while discounting information which is inconvenient. Increasing reinforcement for any position then moving that position towards an extreme of political polarity. What the Fernback study showed was when people were asked to explain how the public policy they disagreed with worked and what about it should change respondents confronted the limitations of their understanding. Their explanations of how things should work were unconvincing even to themselves. Recognising they were incapable of explaining the policy or how they would change it for the better in a convincing way the positions of the respondents softened and moved from that of self-assurance and polarity to moderation and investigation. So much so there was a demonstrable reduction in participants usual knee-jerk political donations. Doing your own thinking is obviously bad for those fundraising for "the cause."
In the workplace when dealing with opposing ideas if you want to invite someone to come to your side of the table don't ask them for reasons, ask them instead to explain their idea to you so you can understand how it would work. If they are convincing perhaps you will adapt what you are looking to do to support them. Be open to that. You can be right and someone else can be more right, the people you don't want to work with are those who do not want to join a winning team just to preserve their ego.
If those promoting the opposing idea are unconvincing they will know it and you will too. It is an uncomfortable thing to stand in front of a whiteboard and listen to yourself spewing half baked nonsense, engineers enjoy being accurate and they enjoy being right. If you give someone the opportunity to be accurate and be right more often than not they'll take that opportunity. In any attempt to convince groups of people to work with you you need to understand who they are. Will their idea wither or bloom when moved into daylight thereby bringing them to your side or you moving to theirs? When trying to get people to work with you take their measure, plan accordingly, be optimistic in your interactions with them and then deal with the result.
Evolutionary survival has ensured that we are collaborative species, sometimes we just forget.