When Collaborations Break Down. AKA Patience is a Virtue.
One of my favorite scenes from The Mummy (1997) is when Evie translates Egyptian hieroglyphics to find out where the Golden Book of Amun Ra, the Book of Life is buried. As she works on the translation, the rest of our heroes are watching the titular mummy Imotop’s minions march closer with the intent of killing/kidnapping them as he sees fit. When the heroes tell her to hurry up she ignores them saying, “Patience is a virtue.” (Their response? "Not right now it isn't!")
Why did I bring up this scene for a blog post about collaborations? Because collaborating with any person or organization requires us to think like Evie and exercise patience. A lot of patience.
Whenever you collaborate with another person or organization there's a chance of miscommunication, or even a total lack of communication. Everyone thinks differently, prioritizes different tasks, and works on a different time schedule. Because of this mishaps are bound to happen, despite the best intentions of both parties.
The first time a mishap occurs it’s understandable. The second time is annoying, but bearable. Three or more times? You’re ready to let your temper loose and give the other person a piece of your mind. How can you do your work if they won’t do theirs?
As difficult as it may be, resist the temptation to act on your anger! Your collaborator may be completely unprofessional to drop the ball on your collaboration like this, but they may also be a professional struggling to stay on top of their projects because of other events in their personal (or professional) life.
You never know what another person is going through unless you walk in their shoes. And you never know when (or how) your professionalism in such an aggravating situation will benefit you later on. Acting professionally, regardless of the circumstances, builds a reputation that will serve you and your company for years to come. Don’t risk it in a moment of anger, however justified.
So how do you respond to the collaboration breaking down if you can’t yell, rant, or rave? Exercise patience and follow the tips below!
Politely, but persistently, reach out to your collaborator until you get an answer. Call and/or message them as much as it takes to get what you need. Your goal is to become so present in their lives it's easier for them to respond to you than continue ignoring you. Just make sure your communications come across as understanding and helpful - you'll get farther by trying to lighten their workload than by trying to play blame games.
Reach out to other people in the collaborative organization. If you’re working with an individual this may not be possible, but if you’re working with an organization, see if there’s another contact that might be able to provide you with what you need. Even though your point person isn’t responding, other people at that organization might. Who knows? You may be able to resolve everything without your original contact.
Find a way to work through the anger. Some people they like to work through anger with physical action like exercise or cleaning (I’m one of them). Others prefer to talk it out, write it out, or do something crafty. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do - you just need to find a constructive way to deal with this anger before it controls your thoughts and actions.
Step away from the situation when anger clouds your judgement. If you’re meeting with the collaborator and feel like you’re going to lose it, excuse yourself from the situation and take a quick break. Go to the bathroom, try breathing exercises, etc. It’s better to regroup before going back to the meeting than staying in place, letting your temper explode, and damaging your relationship (and reputation).
Remind yourself of the understandable reasons they could have for acting this way. People tend to play their cards close to their chest, hiding away difficulties they’re going through. They won’t say why they’re having a hard time - even if it’s a completely valid reason like a family emergency, strained health, work overload, etc. Give the benefit of the doubt, because you never know what’s going on with a person. (And if they do have a legit reason for the lack of professionalism, you won’t feel badly for adding to their troubles.)
Hope these tips help you as much as they help me! Do you have any more suggestions for dealing with a collaborative break down? Leave them in the comments below so we can all learn from each other.
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