How to collaborate with collabohaters

Now that we’ve walked around inside the mind of a collabohater and established what might be motivating him, we can explore how to share a cube wall with one…and not go batty with frustration.

It takes all kinds

When it comes to colleagues who don’t seem compelled to toe the company’s collaboration line, you may sometimes feel as though you’re doing more than your fair share to maintain a winning team. Try to realign your thinking.

For example, next time your silent-as-the-grave colleague contributes absolutely nothing during the mandatory annual conference subcommittee-naming session, remind yourself that it takes many personality types to make a company strong and successful—and introverts can play a key role.

“Every team needs reliable, efficient, and unproblematic people who work behind the scenes and independently,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology and the vice president of innovation at Hogan Assessments.

Imagine a work environment where every single person is a networker/performer. The actual work might not ever get done! Still, it can be tough as a manager to tap into an introvert’s skill set, and Chamorro-Premuzic says it’s important for managers to “help him express what he thinks.”

One way of doing that is to let introverts work behind the scenes and “allow them time to evaluate things that emerge during group discussions,” says Art Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Habits of Leadership.

Why bother, you ask? Because introverts can be a valuable part of the team. Markman says, “We have a tendency to discount these people and ignore them, but if given the opportunity to work within their personality, they will have an impact.”

In defense of insincere flattery

Working with collabohating narcissists is a bit trickier, because the solution is a little harder to stomach. According to Chamorro-Premuzic, you actually should go out of your way to praise, flatter and otherwise make narcissists feel like heroes, because it’s the only way to incentivize them to be team players. “Narcissists are threatened by negative feedback and, unless they feel admired and loved, they will end up sabotaging teams.”

One big, happy family

In the context of any business environment and the myriad personalities who may have different approaches to collaboration, there has to be some flexibility on the part of management and colleagues, and acknowledgement that everyone has a role to play.

Markman says, “Introverts are perfectly happy to have one-on-one conversations and do useful things behind the scenes. Then again, there is always the person who wants to be the presenter and gives and gets energy from being the center of attention.”

He says it’s the job of anyone trying to promote collaboration to get to know the characteristics of people working for them, and “give them the opportunity to work authentically within who they are rather than shoehorn them into a role that doesn’t fit.”

This kind of understanding and flexibility can be a huge promoter of collaboration, as can trust and compatible goals among colleagues. Chamorro-Premuzic says, “Anybody can be a team player if he finds the right motivation…and the right team. Conversely, when people are demoralized, disengaged, or bored, they will be natural collabohaters.”

The good news, according to Chamorro-Premuzic, is that we are all “prewired for cooperation.” It’s when our personal agendas and desire to surpass others take over that things can go awry. For that reason, he says, it’s up to leadership to manage “the tension between cooperation and competition.”

When that tension is managed well, collaboration can thrive.

Post by Jill Coody Smits

Jill Coody Smits is an Austin-based freelance writer and proponent of research-backed communication. Interested in psychology, health, fitness, and human rights. Wife, mother, traveler, reader, dog-lover, unaccomplished athlete.