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3 Principles for Thinking with Another Person

Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide

Credit: Pierre Jean-Louis (@pierre_artista)

At the heart of co-creation, one of the SheEO values, is the act of collaboration, the ability to think with another person or group of people, and come up with better ideas than you could have thought of on your own. I’ve been studying and practicing this ability all my life, formally for 25 years. Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to what the process takes and I thought I would share 3 principles in hopes that they would be useful. They are simple. The art is all in truly incorporating them into your way of approaching others:

  1. There are always options and choices beyond either/or. Either/or creates bifurcation and polarization. You are stuck. Author Paula Underwood taught me decades ago that if you haven’t considered 7 ways to explain or deal with something your thinking is incomplete. It’s a great practice whenever you are stuck—brainstorm 7 ways or 7 ideas or 7 explanations. 
  2. People think differently from you and those differences truly are assets even though they can come across as frustrating. That super detailed person who asks all the nitpicky questions? Thank goodness for her because I would neglect those details otherwise. Any time I feel myself becoming irritated by someone, I look to see the gift or talent behind what is bugging me. There is always something right about what the other person is saying or doing. My job is to figure out what that is and align with whatever part of it I can agree with as a foundation for us to co-create on.
  3. This one is a subset of the second, it’s a way to figure out what’s right. It comes courtesy of William Ury from his book The Power of a Postive No. He says that beneath every person’s position or suggestion, they (and you) are trying to create, change and/or protect something. Figure out what that is for yourself first, then the other person. Understanding that will enable you to get below the surface differences (I want blue, no it has to be red) to get to the heart of what truly matters to the other person. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve taught this to and the kinds of supposed conflicts it’s resolved—everything from bathroom remodels to raises and company priorities.

I’d love to hear your best practices for high quality collaboration. Email me at [email protected] and I will post them.

A word on the graphic. To me, this is what thinking well with someone else looks like—a gorgeous garden sprouting from our heads.

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