Collaborating vs. Competing: Working Together Towards Agreement

Just like Colorado aspens or giant California redwoods need each other for support and to survive, so do people.

Science now substantiates what we intuitively know: It feels good to be part of a team effort. Whether it's working on a group project for school, being part of a team that undertakes a business deal, or participating in a team sport. When you have a shared goal you can go to greater heights of creativity and success.

Go Team Go!

According to a recent article, studies "found that the endorphin response is far greater when working in teams than it is for the same accomplishment when working solo." The benefits of camaraderie and collaboration are undeniable.
Working alone and being adversarial leads to feelings of isolation and alienation. Working together to reach a common goal fosters joy, love, and peace. Love because you feel that connection as you work together and collaborate. Joy because each member is contributing his or her best to the joint project. And peace because there is strength in numbers when you are part of a community.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in a family that has each others' back. Each can go out in the world knowing the security that exists back home. Each person knows they are equally valued. They collectively embody the lovely truth "Your viewpoints and needs are as important as mine," and as a result, each feels worthy and empowered to be their best selves.

Collaboration vs. Competition

The opposite of collaboration is competition. It's based on who can exert the most power and win. But the fruits of victory by over-running others are often bitter sweet. It does nothing for the heart or for the good of the whole.

Hence, our political situation today.

In order to reap the rewards of collaboration, we need to have a strategy to resolve differences in a way that honors all involved. That's an area where Attitude Reconstruction shines.

Simple Way to Resolve Conflict

Reconciling differences can happen with commitment to teamwork and by abiding by the four communication rules of "I"s, specifics, kindness, and listening. This means curtailing the "you"s, overgeneralities, negativity, and not listening.

Small details or big issues, no matter! Regardless of the conflict, the goal is to create solutions that are workable for everyone and connect, not separate. In order to accomplish this it's vital to hear and understand each person's position. Only then is it possible to work together to find a mutually satisfying outcome.

Depending on the complexity of the issue and the number of people involved, the process can take from just a few minutes to several lengthy sessions. Don't be deterred by the time it takes to thoroughly and collaboratively resolve an issue. In the long run, your time investment will pay off, and you will enjoy the connection and feelings of mutual respect.

Two steps are all you need to resolve any difference in a way that honors all concerned. If you do the first step well, the second will be easy -- even fun. You start by listing the specific topics you want to discuss, picking one, and promising to stick to only talking about that one issue.

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Agree to the amount of time each person is allotted to speak for at a given time. Usually a minute or two is enough because you continually alternate talking and listening. (A kitchen timer is very helpful.)   

The Two Steps to Resolve Any Difference

1. Alternate exchanging views about the specific issue until all feel heard and understood.

2. Together, brainstorm ideas to find a workable solution that honors all parties.       

Step One: Alternate exchanging views about a specific issue until all feel heard and understood.

Begin by one person saying everything he or she needs to say about that topic. You're not talking solution in Step One. Say everything you need to say about why you believe or feel what you do about the issue now. (Once you go to Step Two, you will be talking about what you need or want.)

This can be a bit of a time-consuming process. It's a challenge to articulate thoughts and feelings, because they need to be truly understood by the other(s). Keep alternating until no one has anything more to say. That might mean ten rounds! Although you don't have to agree when you listen, you must recognize that all positions are equally valid. If communication violations occur, get out your matador cape. Gently remind the person you're communicating with them and to please speak about himself or herself so you can truly understand their position.

As you talk and listen, new subjects may emerge. Note them in writing so they can be discussed at a later time, but resist the urge to throw new issues on the table and complicate matters unless you both consider the shift helpful. When each person feels his or her position on the chosen topic is understood by the other, step one is done.

Step Two: Together, brainstorm ideas to find a workable solution that honors all parties.

Integration, compromise, cooperation, and ultimately collaboration are what I'm suggesting. You now need to integrate all points of view in Step Two in order to find an acceptable and workable agreement.

Step Two is not: the time to revert to espousing your grievances; challenging others; proclaiming who's right and wrong; or using threats and intimidation. It's not about rehashing your opinion of what happened in the past or interpreting the other person's behavior. This time for creative dialogue is about finding win-win solutions that feel right to all; now and for the future.

What Does A Good Agreement Look Like?

What a good agreement looks like? It should combine the ideas of everyone concerned. It does not mean "your way" or "my way," but a way we can both agree on. Using the goal of connection as a guide, ask yourself these questions:

*    How can we find a middle ground between our differences?
*    What is a workable solution?
*    Is the position I am proposing, or agreeing to, coming from selfishness or love?

If there are bumps in the road to finding a solution, try adding "trading time" to Step Two. If everyone contributes to a brainstorming session, you'll be surprised by how many alternatives you come up with.

Collect every idea and extract the merits and liabilities of each. After listening to all suggestions, collaborate to find the best blend of positions. Remain open, stay specific, build on each others suggestions, and trade time when the discussion gets lopsided. Break big problems down into manageable pieces. Keep talking, and keep listening.

Clamming up or becoming the loud bully isn't going to win you any merit points nor encourage others to find a happy solution. Focus on putting the "we" first and personal desires second. Sometimes downplaying your own wants and needs is necessary for the good of the whole. If you normally give in, realize your needs are important and consult your intuition before acquiescing to another person's suggestion.

Persist until you arrive at a win-win solution. Workable solutions that honor everyone are possible. If you can't find one, shelve the topic temporarily and set a specific time to resume the discussion, or bring in a neutral third party.

The Afterglow

Once everyone's come to an agreement, it is imperative you honestly accept it, and not back out whenever the going gets tough. Be careful not to consent to a solution that doesn't feel right, or you'll definitely experience a backlash. If the solution feels correct, you'll be able to let go of what you gave and deal with your emotions about not getting things your way.

Avoid keeping score or bringing up your concessions later, either out loud or to yourself. Avoid sarcasm, as it's an insincere attempt at humor. These tactics indicate you haven't truly handled your anger about your differences nor have you embraced the solution.

Working together towards agreement allows all to enjoy the benefits of collaborating. Every time you reached a win-win you'll feel the connection and satisfaction for your efforts.

©2011, 2016 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.

Book by the Author

Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.

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About the Author

Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T., author of: Attitude ReconstructionJude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Word spread about the success of Attitude Reconstruction, and it wasn’t long before Jude became a sought-after workshop and seminar leader, teaching her approach to organizations and groups. Visit her website at

* Watch an interview with Jude Bijou: How to Experience More Joy, Love and Peace

* Click here for a video demonstration of the Shiver and Shake Process.