A long time ago I learned one of the most important concepts or practice that has helped in my embracing and developing collaborative partnerships - assume innocence. This simple phrase is one of the most powerful practices in developing a business relationship and culture to support collaboration. Interestingly enough, this simple phrase is also one of the most difficult to embrace. Generally speaking I have found that simple phrases can sometimes bring the greatest impact. What do I mean by assume innocence? It is very simple - in all your interactions with others always begin with the assumption that the other party does not mean harm, or does not mean to do you wrong.
I can imagine what you are thinking, because I thought the same thing the first time that someone suggested this simple concept to me. I thought it was silly and that of course other mean to do you wrong, maybe not all the time but many times and you shouldn’t start from an initial point of trust. After all, I had always been told that you must earn trust and respect.
Over the years however I have learned to embrace this concept a little bit at a time until I’ve reached the point now where I strongly believe that the foundation for taking that first step into a successful collaboration partnership is this simple concept - assume innocence. This means that you must take a breath and think before you react negatively. This means that when you read an email that you think includes a derogatory comment you should take a breath and assume innocence. Another way to think of this is to put yourself in the other’s shoes and think about their side of the conversation.
This concept is extremely important when interacting with people and cultures outside of your normal circle. The challenge with people outside of your normal circle is based on cultural differences and the norms that may collide in your interaction. To make a lighter reference, think about the classic reaction to the ‘ugly american’ concept. This reference is comical but it highlights the differences that keep people and cultures apart. Think about this when you are dealing in your early interaction with new partners. It is very hard to develop a relationship when you are only dealing with one or two asynchronous methods of communication such as email and texts, or social networks. In order to improve the chances of developing a strong collaborative relationship you must use verbal communications and if possible, in-person interaction or at least video conferences.
Developing a collaborative partnership depends open and honest communications and developing these open and honest communications is enhanced and encouraged by assuming innocence. Start with embracing this simple concept and you will never be mistaken for the ugly american.
And now for the audience participation portion of the show…
Have you considered the impact of words on your team culture? How do phrases and gestures add to your communications? How do you build a cross cultural relationship? Have you dealt with an overseas outsourcing provider? How did you navigate the communication and cultural differences?