Often collaboration has many benefits and if you don’t want to or someone else does not want to, there are several guidelines on how to do it or how to improve collaboration (1). The premise is to make collaboration desirable and also managable. As a result the option of whether collaboration is not wanted or should not happen is often not mentioned. Instead the benefits are mentioned, which on the other hand could be a form of gaslighting if it is not actually wanted. That is the manipulation of ones own reality towards a different one (2). For example, being convinced that a particular collaboration is suitable for a particular reason, whilst it might not be.
What is bad about convincing yourself in wanting to collaborate?
Often times it might not work out in the long term. An easy to understand example is going on a first date. The chemistry does not fit, but for the sakes of dating and the idea(l) of having a relationship (such as in most goals actively looked for in collaborations), one might start to think of benefits for this relationship to work, a bit like cherry-picking. As a result, one may twist themselves to appear more suitable and starts to accept and appreciate differences. This might go well for a bit, but after some time it won’t, because it is not true. The ending of the honey moon phase and the reality then presented is a good example. “Oh you don’t actually like this?” “yeah..sorry, I did that for you kind of.”
Why would anyone want to collaborate, while not actually wanting it?
There are different reasons, some may be concious and some may be unconcious. Let’s explore different thought processes and how they play out in practice.
- Modification of an object
Someone might not like the idea of collaboration firstly, which shows as a tiny thought, but then actively point out (sudden) collaborative benefits. However, unconciously a different thought process might happen, in which collaboration is continuesly not wanted. In psyche one of such mechanisms is referred to modification of an object (3). It is a mechanism that turns something not of liking into something of liking. The purpose of this mechansim in infants for example is protection of the self such as from harm or neglect. For example, if a caretaker is neglecting a baby, it would naturally dislike them and leave. Because it cannot do so it turns such disliking into liking.
In adults or in workplace cooperation this might look like needing to cooperate because it is essential for company survival or for example also an individual position. As a result – of modification of object – and present in concious argumentation one might find benefits in collaboration and believe so “oh this company is greatly positioned, this sounds like a cool vision, this person seems fantastic to work with. I like it, lets do it.” On the other hand one might unconciously think “I would not spend a dime on this.”
2. Sugar-coated belief system
At the same time you might have read and learned about all sorts of unconcious biases such as on racism and feel ready to avoid them. For example, you may believe that you actively share no racist trades, but when it comes to collaboration with a partner of a different skin color or accent, you may find yourself naming different reasons why the collaboration does not work. For example research (4) conducted on neuropolitics by Liya Yu, found that although “white people” claimed to be actively not racist, their brain regions showed signs of fear when seeing “black people.”As a result you may choose to collaborate with someone different, less suitable or you may choose to still collaborate, whilst you unconciously don’t want to and that shows for example by being or becoming avoident. Here it might be interesting to explore a few “Whys’?” Why being avoidant? What’s that feeling of discomfort telling me? And whatever it is, it’s okay. It is okay in that sense, that it can be be explored further.
Why is there a discrepancy between conciousness and unconciousness?
There are different reasons. Our brain develops bottom up and lays an unconcious foundation for our own survival; How to relate to another, what feels safe and unsafe. Depending on the latter, these traits become part of our unconciousness. For example there is no need to be concious about how to move your finger tips, when eating. And similiar patterns likely apply to our psyche and thereby our notions of survival. For example, if you grew up in a solely x-skin colored family environment, then this is what likely feels safe to you “your tribe with its habits and belief system”(5). However, suddenly you may find yourself with different people of different backgrounds (habits, skin color, religions, accents etc) and it does less. And I believe the larger the discrepancy from what you are used to; feel save with, the more likely your “concisouness” will shut down, and your primal instincts including what is unconcious but feels safe will be present or to some extend guide you, while not being aware of.
What does this say about effective collaboration?
Collaboration is great and it does hold many benefits if collaboration is true. For example, again if you go on a first date and the chemistry fits; values, or certain values shared align with each other, you truthfully complement each other, you don’t twist yourself to make yourself fit to the other, you can be honest, you lay out your cards. Whatever it is, I mean complementation can work so different, it fits and that’s okay. That’s great actually. For example, it’s okay wanting to collaborate with someone from your hometown, or the same cultrual background if that makes you feel safe and the collaboration too.
What if I don’t want to collaborate, but you know, I have to?
I believe you should not twist yourself for anyone or let anyone twist you. Secondly, in business model research, different business models are suitable for different market segments. I believe a similiar approach can be used for collaboration. If partner x is not suitable for project b, a different one can be found. At the same time, becoming aware about certain bias might help you to actively avoid collaboration, but at the same time it also gives you the chance to work on understanding them with the intent to encourage collaboration; Why do I hold certain bias? Where do they come form? What do I fear? as oppose to: I am aware of my bias or ignore it, let’s get it on with.
More to it? Let me know in the comments.
(1) Nevins, M. (2018). How to Collaborate with People You Don’t Like. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2018/12/how-to-collaborate-with-people-you-dont-like
(2) Thomas, L. (2018). “Gaslight and gaslighting”. The Lancet. Psychiatry. 5 (2): 117–118. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30024-5. PMID 29413137.
(3) Training Material from the International Society of Applied Psychoanalysis (Modification of Object)
(4) Yu, L. (2022). Vulnerable Minds: The Neuropolitics of Divided Societies. Columbia University Press.
(5) Van Vugt, M., & Schaller, M. (2008). Evolutionary approaches to group dynamics: An introduction. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 12(1), 1.