Honesty, respect, and collaboration

A lot has been written about collaboration. But at its base, it depends on two sometimes opposed attitudes: honesty and respect.

I’ve been considering this as I work on several highly collaborative projects right now, including a ghostwriting project with four contributors on the client end, and a survey and white paper project with more than a bunch of significant contributors.

In all of these cases, I’ve been pleased with how smoothly things have gone.

The challenge of respectful honesty

I have the luxury of working with smart people who are not asses.

As a consultant, I offer them honesty. “This is going to be a problem.” “I cannot make that deadline because I didn’t hear from you in time.” “I think your suggestion is unwise, and here is why.” Consultants are often required to be critics, which can be uncomfortable.

I also offer respect. It’s never “You screwed me” or “That’s stupid” or “You’re a pain in the ass.”

Criticism delivered with disdain will destroy the relationship and the work product inferior.

Pats on the back delivered obsequiously will get people to peg you as lightweight and worthless.

Respectful honesty yields continuing productive collaboration.

It also helps to work diligently and quickly to create a quality result — another way of generating honesty and showing respect.

This is a hard balance to strike — but every consultant must learn it

Know your value. Know your expertise. Deliver excellent work backed up by experience, and don’t pretend to know what you don’t. That’s how you generate work with honesty.

Understand the value of relationships. Acknowledge the expertise and value of your collaborators. Recognize helpful suggestions even if they’re inconvenient. This is how you demonstrate respect, and earn it in return.

Once you get the hang of combining honesty and respect, you’ll be able to generate continuing business and referrals. That’s how you get to pick the best clients and the best projects. And that’s what keeps the wheel of respectful honesty turning.

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