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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Leaving Room for Others

How honoring the true spirit of collaboration will help you in business and in life.

The words “collaboration” and “partnership” are thrown around with as much thought as saying “fine” when others ask about your day. Lately, I’ve seen the words casually tossed about by people acting in the opposite manner. Whether it’s due to ego, lack of confidence disguised as uber confidence, or the need to feel valued above others, taking all the space under the guise of being a team player kills progress.

Before I go much further, I want to be clear that I know I have a big personality that can choke the life out of a room. In my less self-assured days, I would unwittingly slow momentum because I dominated meetings while falsely believing I was being collaborative. More than I care to admit, I had to be the center of attention, come across as the most intelligent/funniest/most insightful, get in the final word, or be seen as “the guy” who solved the problem.

About 20 years ago, that narrative changed when a colleague I admired took me aside after one such meeting to speak with me. Of course, I hoped he would tell me how fabulous my contributions were to the group’s overall direction – but I was wrong. In no uncertain terms, he expressed that while my ideas and contributions were valuable, I wasn’t allowing others to be part of the solution and it was killing the group dynamic. I was crestfallen, but he wasn’t finished.

He continued by saying, “You have great ideas, and we all need you to express them. However, it’s time you started leaving room for others. If you can’t do that, your participation here will no longer be necessary.” I was ashamed, mainly because I knew he was correct. It took everything in me to look him in the eye, apologize, and ask for another chance – a chance he gave me. From that point on, I started listening more than speaking. Additionally, I stopped adding my thoughts if they only served to restate what had already been said. Finally, when I did talk, I did so thoughtfully and ended by asking for feedback rather than acting as if I had just uttered something so brilliant it didn’t need further discussion.

It was a harsh lesson but a necessary one.

Since that moment, I’ve experienced many instances – both professionally and personally – where I’ve been on the other side of that table. I’ve worked at organizations where it was clear that only one person’s opinion mattered, and all other collaborative efforts were merely for show. I’ve sat on committees where an individual sucked the innovation out of the room because the only good ideas were his/hers. I’ve even attended funerals where one person’s grief is so enormous there wasn’t space for anyone else’s emotions. In each example, I walked away feeling "less than."

Looking back, I know I wasn’t all that remarkable in collaborative environments before my colleague rebuked me because I had so little self-confidence. But, once I started believing in myself and my ideas, it was effortless to share them in a genuinely collaborative manner and not worry that I would be made to feel foolish if I presented a solution that wouldn’t work. And, trust me, I’ve had plenty of bad ideas. But I’ve also had some damn good ones, and because I was more of a collaborative partner, those initial good ideas became a lot better because other people helped make them so.

So, what’s the business point of all of this? It’s easy for all of us to suck the life out of a meeting because we have so much we want to share: new products, fabulous design, thoughtful packaging, and detailed decoration, to name a few. We share all these things and then wonder why the prospect didn’t order from us. We don’t leave room for others often enough, whether it’s a committee meeting or a sales presentation. It’s important to remember that progress happens (and sales are made) because there is collaborative communication where everyone has a hand in the discussion. You don’t need to be the smartest, the fastest, the most responsive, or even the most creative. Collaboration is about understanding the needs of others and working together to find the right solution.

In other words, leave some room for others.

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