How to Collaborate With Others

Teamwork is one of the skills that companies demand the most. Indeed, for most projects, individual initiative isn't enough. Therefore the effectiveness of a team's combined efforts are extremely important when it comes to achieving goals.
How to Collaborate With Others
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 11 November, 2022

As humans, we’re social beings. We relate to others, and our success and well-being depend on our ability to do so. In fact, whether we’re talking about a work project, a family, or a sports team, in any situation that involves a group of people it’s essential that we all know how to coexist and collaborate with each other to achieve their objectives. However, we’re not always taught how to do it.

As a matter of fact, there are various personal conditions that can make collaboration difficult. For example, perfectionism and self-demand, the inability to delegate, or the constant need to be in control. Also, low tolerance for frustration or poor social skills. These factors generally have a negative impact, often creating a hostile climate, unleashing power struggles, and moving us away from our desired goals. Fortunately, it’s possible to improve our collaboration skills.

People working as a team
Collaboration is essential in work teams to achieve the objectives set.

The need to learn to collaborate

You live in an individualistic and competitive society that urges you to focus on yourself, seek personal success, and assert yourself. However, the growth and results that you can obtain by adopting these kinds of attitudes are limited. In fact, in any circumstance, collaborating with others is necessary to nurture yourself, open your mind to new perspectives, and go further.

For instance, an academically prepared person, or one with a lot of experience in their field, but who doesn’t know how to work in a team, can end up being a drag on the organization. Similarly, in personal relationships, you need to know how to converse, listen, and negotiate. After all ‘being right’ is of little use if you’re unable to cooperate and reach a consensus.

Developing this skill doesn’t mean always giving in, losing your ability to judge, or not having a voice. It’s not about a sacrifice you make for others. As a matter of fact, it brings you multiple benefits on a personal level. For example, it:

  • Promotes long-term team member engagement and retention.
  • Helps you improve your self-esteem and feelings of personal worth.
  • Promotes a positive climate that benefits your health and satisfaction.
  • Promotes the development of your social and communication skills.
  • Encourages a sense of individual responsibility toward others.
  • Promotes your understanding of diversity.
  • Stimulates creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
  • Advances your knowledge and achievement of objectives (due to the sharing of abilities and talents)

How to learn to collaborate

Like all skills, your ability to collaborate can be improved and developed. The techniques and resources you employ will vary depending on the context. Here are some ideas you can start working on:

1. Encourage communication

For any human system to function, communication is essential. Although it might seem obvious, you don’t always pay the necessary attention to this point. Firstly, you must learn to communicate by employing active listening and assertiveness. Make sure you stop for a moment and try to understand the other person and really take into account their points of view. Don’t simply focus on responding or giving your opinion.

Secondly, you must work on your communication actively, creating and dedicating specific spaces for it to flow. Speaking only when a conflict arises isn’t advisable. It’s preferable to regularly exchange ideas.

2. Judge ideas, not people

Collaborating doesn’t mean accepting all the requests that others make of you. You can analyze, criticize (constructively), or even reject ideas. Nevertheless, you must bear in mind that you should direct any judgment or evaluation at the idea or the specific behavior, and not at the individual themselves.

This will help you avoid conflicts or facilitate their resolution when they appear for other reasons. To do it, you must review the labels you use to identify others.

3. Be empathetic

Individualism puts the self at the center of everything. It makes you lose perspective and completely detach yourself from the reality of others. At this level, empathy is crucial. That’s the ability to understand what others think, how they feel, what they need, and what inspires them.

Empathy allows you to be tolerant and flexible. It means you manage to combine your own needs and talents with those of the others involved and all join together.

4. Set common goals

This is perhaps the most important point. After all, when you collaborate, your aim is to achieve a common goal, one that’s desirable for all those involved and for which you all work together. Therefore, it’s important that this objective is agreed upon and understood by all and that everyone understands the importance of their role in the process.

In an organization, the goal might be increasing sales. In a couple, it could be raising a family. The key is that this objective is beneficial for all and generates a higher level of involvement. By working toward a common goal, it’s easier to eradicate the idea of competition and replace it with cooperation.

5. Ensure fairness and trust

In line with the above, all parties must perceive that the situation is fair and the reciprocal relationship is open to collaboration. Moreover, the benefit must be mutual and there must be openness and transparency.

Therefore, everyone involved must be certain in advance of what the roles, intentions, and rewards are for each individual. Without this clarity, the situation may be perceived as unbalanced and lead to resentment and power struggles.

brothers talking
Knowing that there’s a mutual benefit encourages openness and empathy when collaborating.

6. Self-management

Finally, it’s easier to participate and cooperate in the kind of democratic environment that offers you a certain sense of control. Being able to give your opinion, debate, and self-manage yourself (in terms of deciding how to contribute to the project) makes you more motivated.

For this reason, it’s preferable to avoid excessively hierarchical and managerial structures. In fact, all parties should be allowed to contribute from their own perspectives and with their ideas for improvement.

In short, to learn to collaborate, you need to feel part of a common project, be motivated and involved, build trust with the other parties, and experience a certain freedom. These conditions foster intrinsic motivation and help you break down the barriers and myths that make you perceive others as competitors.

Applying these perspectives in organizations, couples, families, or groups of any kind requires deliberate work and care in each individual aspect. However, the results will be far more positive, not only in terms of productivity (the ability to achieve goals) but also in terms of personal satisfaction and quality of relationships.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cano-Hays, R., Lomeli, B., Lau, S. & Wagner, P. (2015). Guía de recursos para construir colaboración efectiva e integración de programas. Project concern international (PCI).
  • Maienschein, J. (1993). Why collaborate?. Journal of the History of Biology26(2), 167-183
  • Mejia-Arauz, R., Correa-Chavez, M., Ohrt, U. K., & Aceves-Azuara, I. (2015). Collaborative work or individual chores: The role of family social organization in children’s learning to collaborate and develop initiative. Advances in child development and behavior49, 25-51.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.