To Compete or Collaborate?

Competition is a strength that helps people to be successful in sports and beyond. When used optimally, competition energizes, creates fun, and helps individuals and teams to elevate their performance.

On the other hand, collaboration also has advantages. Collaboration broadens ideas, expands capacity, and allows for innovation that may not occur when working independently or competitively.

Collaboration and competition used together can produce synergistic results. Imagine the performance possibilities for a baseball team featuring a great collaboration between pitcher and catcher. Take it a step further and imagine the whole team is smoothly collaborating in both offense and defense. In contrast, if the infield was competing with the outfield, what impact would that have on team effectiveness?

In the workplace, team composition may not always be so apparent.   Team members may be spread between departments or organizations.  Furthermore, competition and collaboration may seem mutually exclusive if we compete for recognition, promotions and/or scarce resources even if we share common organizational or discipline-specific goals.

In addition, both competition and collaboration sound good in theory, but are often difficult to execute optimally. Inappropriate competitiveness can be viewed as self-serving. Collaboration may feel risky since sharing ideas or personal information can result in abuse of that trust.

It’s way too easy to fall into the mistrust/compete-with-peers/zero-sum mindset. Instead, perhaps that competition could be directed to my/our previous performance.  In addition, I could reframe my competitor as a collaborator that will help me to compete against another organization or industry (think: merger). Furthermore, how far can I expand the team umbrella, and thus the reach of the team? Being inclusive and sharing the opportunity tends to produce win-wins rather than win-lose situations.

Sharing also means risk, which means that sometimes you’ll get burned. However, consider the consequences of playing it too safe. What opportunities are you missing? Failing to collaborate or compete also has a cost that may be underappreciated. For example, I don’t like the risk of the stock market but not investing at all ensures that I will have financial loss over time as inflation eats away at the value of my money in my mattress.

In the end, like all things, finding the right balance between collaboration and competition takes wisdom and courage. The ups and downs are par for the course, but will make you wiser in the next round.  And celebrating that win is so much sweeter when done together.

The Truest Honor

Big money. Awards. Accolades. Perfect grades. Compliments. An amazing career.   Yes, these are all true honors for those who are lucky to receive them. For some, these are daily occurrences. For others, they happen intermittently at best, but the euphoria may quickly wear off and then we’re thinking about the next honor.

I’m as guilty of this as the next gal.   When I let my deprivation mindset take over, I’m only looking for where I’m not measuring up or not as successful as the most successful person in the room. But when I allow my abundance mindset to prevail, I see affirmation everywhere.

Affirmation need not come in the form of an award or even a compliment. Recall the concept of positivity resonance. It’s a moment or even a micro-moment of connection between two people. Barbara Frederickson, author of Love 2.0, calls this love. That micro- or even macro-moment of connection is even more meaningful when it happens with someone you care about – whether a loved one or a friendly acquaintance. They’re even more amazing when they occur following an interaction where there is mutual respect, trust and companionship. If I can have that type of interaction when using my strengths and following my passions, then there is no better feeling on earth. None.

Connection. Passion. Trust. Impact. Positivity resonance/love. Really. That is the truest honor.

Starry-Eyed Idealist

Be practical.  Be realistic.  Be careful.  Don’t trust others.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know.  I don’t want to get burned or get my hopes up unrealistically.

But I also don’t want to live my life feeling like I can’t trust and hope.

We learned in school about realistic optimism:  being optimistic in a realistic way.  I think those authors were providing caution to people like me who tend to assume the best intentions from others and the best possible outcome.

I understand the theory and even agree with it to some degree.   However, there are two problems with that concept from my perspective.  First, what is realistic to one person is unrealistic to another.  In other words, we are not a good judge of our own reality.  On one hand, we might be unrealistically optimistic, but we may likewise be unrealistically negative or pessimistic.  I know anecdotally that a large number of us have a negative ticker tape dialogue running through our heads:  I’m not good enough.  I’m not deserving.  I’m unattractive.  No one likes me.  I’m not deserving.  I’m not smart/good at math/good at athletics.  I don’t belong.  I’m not loved.   We notice those things that confirm our belief (confirmation bias) but ignore the data that refute it.  In so doing, we create our own reality.

Running through my great, 50-year old wisdom is my ticker tape that I don’t belong and that I don’t have many friends.  I used to actually say that aloud.  And I would always notice when I’m not included or when I’m alone, each observation confirming my belief.  But some time ago I decided to challenge that belief and look for instances where I do belong, when my friends reach out to me, when I’m included or even celebrated and seen authentically by my friends.  Back then, I might’ve thought it was realistically optimistic to hope that I would have outside my best friend circle (3-4 people generally; this fact did not sway my belief mind you) another circle of at most 3-4 modestly good friends.

As you might guess, when I started intentionally looking for signs of friendship and affection, I started to see it everywhere.  Now I feel I have friendship in huge abundance – not that I’m ‘popular’ by any means – but that I have a wide circle of friends and affectionate acquaintances.  The graduate program that I’ve almost just completed expanded my circle of friends by more than 37 people.  In the old days, my ticker tape would’ve had me feeling like they’re not friends/they don’t care for me like the other classmates/we’ll never stay in contact.  I’m not naive enough to believe that all of us will be buddies forever, but with some effort I will be able to maintain contact and friendship with several of them and even expand the circle to other alumni and people in the positive psychology community.

In addition to not being a good judge of our own reality, the second problem with realistic optimism is that it will cause us to play it too safe sometimes.  Innovation takes leaps of faith, and if we all quit dreaming, where would our dreams be?

I can hear the naysayers out there saying that I’ll be disappointed or hurt by being hopeful or optimistic.  My answer to that is that I’d rather put myself out there to be hurt and disappointed on the rare occasion than to live my life without trust, intimacy, love or hope.  Yes, I’ve been burned, but I can honestly say that I’m more likely to be pleasantly surprised.  Life is not supposed to be free from pain or disappointment.  It’s part of the human condition and to close ourselves to that pain also requires that we close ourselves to pleasure and joy.

So when someone accuses me of being a starry-eyed idealist, I thank them for the compliment and say I would’t have it any other way.


Energy Management and Impact on Others, Part III

Positive energyNegative energy.  We’ve already discussed how they impact other people.  The quality of your energy, and your emotions for that matter, is infectious and influences others.  The quantity of your energy matters too.  The more you are energized, the more others will feel energized by you and will leave feeling upbeat.

You can also cultivate energy in others.  In her book, Energize Your Workplace, Jane Dutton discusses how high quality connections (HQC) between individuals can improve individual and workplace engagement and performance.  HQC consists of three parts:  trust, respectful engagement, and task enabling.  Though HQC is primarily aimed at the workplace, HQC likely can also facilitate and smooth personal relationships.  If you know what constitutes HQC you can at least do your part to implement HQC from your side of the relationship, and encourage the other to reciprocate and follow your lead.

You know what trust is.  While you cannot force someone else to trust you, you can set the right tone by being trustworthy and giving them the benefit of the doubt and your trust, without making them first earn it.  Trusting also means allowing yourself to be vulnerable and sharing of yourself.  In this case, trusting does not mean being foolish, but rather assuming the other to be dependable, competent, and deserving of inclusion and respect.  If they prove themselves to be otherwise, you can act accordingly.

Respectful engagement means that one is present (not distracted), genuine, listens effectively and communicates affirmation during interpersonal interactions.  In addition, respectful engagement includes supportive communication which means making requests rather than demands, being specific, and avoiding evaluation or judgment.

Though task enabling is probably more important at work, it also can help us have a personal life that runs smoothly.  For example, our family is a team. The more we act like a team, the more effective we will be at successfully navigating the needs of the family.  The more our family/team members help other members to learn what they need to know and nurturing them to help them grow, the more each family member will be competent and able to be successful.  In addition, we can help by designing tasks in a manner that increases the odds of team member success.  Allocating tasks based on our strengths, preference and availability is more likely to produce good results than say gender-based or traditional roles.

In addition to the above three components, Dutton also recommends a healthy dose of play to help build positive emotion, openness, creativity and team-building.  Every home and workplace will have a different context, so be creative as to how to make the tasks more enjoyable.  This is the hardest part of task-enabling for yours truly.  I tend to err much more on the work hard/serious side.  Maybe I’ll delegate play to someone else … but join in!

The Downside of Mindlessness

We don’t have to talk about meditation, so don’t panic.  But I do want to talk about mindlessness – just going through life without thought or much observation.   Mindfulness or mindlessness is the manner you go about your life between meditation sessions (sorry, couldn’t resist).  The best example for mindlessness for me is not remembering one detail about my drive into work.  Twenty minutes of pure mindlessness, though my new commute is filled with so much beauty it is so much harder for me to be mindless.

We’ve developed these mindless habits to simplify our lives, but Harvard professor and author of Counter Clockwise, Ellen Langer argues that we are giving up our freedom to choose when we fail to be present.  My drive into work could have involved noticing a new store, a beautiful sky, a kind gesture, or the choice for a new route and scenery.  Instead, I typically drive like an automaton, giving away my life in 10-20 minute increments.

There are other downsides to mindlessness.  Others, including animals, can sense our mindlessness even if we think we’re hiding it well.  Distracted conversation is not an effective way to communicate or build trusting relationships.  Those who approach others with mindfulness elicit a desire to interact and engage and are viewed more positively than those who interact mindlessly.

Here are some additional benefits from approaching tasks with mindfulness:

  • Energizing – mindfulness is energizing, not energy depleting
  • Creativity – mindful approaches enables creativity as one views projects with fresh eyes
  • Better, more trusting relationships
  • Higher quality work – Tasks performed mindfully are judged to be better than those that are done mindlessly
  • Fewer mistakes and improved willingness to turn mistakes into opportunities
  • More fun

Langer even states that suffering is due to mindlessness, not only in terms of what we tend to notice (or not notice) in our world,  but how we think/feel about our world (see also  My View on Perception , Bias, It’s Just Not for Fabrics and Projection and Perception).  Our assumptions and automatic beliefs about the world create our unhappiness and our inability to think creatively and out-of-the-box.  My drive to work can either be seen as a terrible burden and unpleasant experience, or a time for discovery.  Again:  a choice.

The path to mindfulness, according to Langer, is to “make it new in subtle ways that only you would know.”  She also recommends noticing how it feels to be mindful and to cultivate that feeling.  I will just indulge myself here and remind you that meditation is exercise for the mindfulness muscle (see also Soothing the Child Within).  Fortunately, there are many ways to exercise mindfulness, so find the meditation style or activity (such as yoga or swimming) that is right for you.  Choose to become more mindful, and observe the beauty, newness, choices, creativity and opportunities that have been right under your nose this whole time.