Everyone needs to know how to collaborate well, and you can practice that skill in many ways: by setting up working groups, lending a hand to your coworkers, and checking in to make sure your goals line up with your teammates’. But there’s another side to the art of teamwork that’s easier to overlook. The way you communicate can make a huge difference in how effective a team player you are–and even whether or not others want to work with you in the first place.
These are five common habits that can help you come across as a more collaborative person–somebody other people just naturally want to work with:
1. Limit First-Person Pronouns
Ever notice how politicians sometimes sound like they’re adopting the “royal ‘we’,” scrupulously avoiding anything that smacks of self-centeredness or egotism? They might be overdoing it, but they’re onto something: When you’re trying to sound collaborative and inclusive, you need to keep “I,” “me,” and “mine” to a minimum.
First-person statements like “I did this” or, “I want that” can sound self-interested and demanding–even when you really did accomplish something single-handedly. It’s far better to use language that emphasizes the team, such as “we did this” or “our team achieved that.” Of course, you don’t have to disappear from the spotlight entirely. If someone says, “Did you design the campaign?” you can reply, “Yes, I had a role in it, but it was a group effort and we’re excited about the outcome.”
2. Nix The Negatives
Using negatives like “I can’t,” “I won’t,” and “I’m not,” can also undermine your collaborative efforts. These expressions distance you from teammates and give the impression that you’re in opposition to someone or something.
If you say, “I can’t get the budget for this project,” or “I won’t be able to make the meeting,” you’re shutting one door without opening up a new one. Even when you can’t immediately propose an alternative, you should soften your phrasing: “I’d love to participate, but I’ve made other plans.” This way a note of positivity and collegiality still rings through.
You may also want to sidestep phrases that include “not,” as in “I will not be attending” or “I’m not available.” If you’re not free to talk to a teammate, for example, you can usually still put it more positively: “Can you come back in a half hour?” or “Let’s chat about that this afternoon. What’s a good time?”
3. Mention A Shared Goal
People who are good at making others want to work with them tend to continuously reemphasize the goals and outcomes they share with their team. For example: “This strategy needs to work for all of us” or, “Let’s look at how we can find a solution together.” If you’re a manager, you can also ask your direct reports, “What can I do to assist you?” At every turn, speak in terms of common objectives. You might rally your troops at a retreat with, “It’s great to have all of you here. Our dialogue over the next few days will help us develop a clear, shared understanding of just who we are and what our goals should be over the rest of the year.”
4. Encourage Diverse Points Of View
Every great collaborator encourages others to share their opinions, knowing that’s the best way to collectively come to a decision. As a team manager, you might say, “I’ve called this meeting so we can come up with a plan for improving our workflow together. I want to gather input from all of us so we can weigh every idea as a team, large or small.”
Then make sure everyone at the table expresses their views. Call on people if they don’t volunteer. Say, “Karen, I know you’ve had some experience with this, can you share your thoughts?” Some people just might be waiting for an invitation to speak. You can take this approach in all kinds of settings, even if you’re not a manager. Simply showing your genuine interest in hearing from everyone and your conviction about reaching a collaborative solution can go a long way.
5. Recognize People
Finally, take time just to show people you value them. Take a moment to open up a one-on-one conversation with, “How are you?” or a group meeting with, “Is everybody excited about this project?” As the discussion unfolds, acknowledge people’s input: “I agree with you,” or “That’s a great point” or, “Awesome!” These simple, affirming remarks can bring energy to the exchange, and so can expressions that let you reinforce the overall momentum of a conversation–things like, “We’ve got a lot of excellent perspectives here” or just, “I’m loving this discussion.”
You can get specific, too: “I like your idea about bringing other teams into the project.” People want to know they’re making real-time contributions, and by recognizing them you make your teammates feel valuable to the group effort.
There’s a lot that goes into collaborating, but language can help create the right conditions for it. The words you use are powerful tools. Deploy them properly and people will never stop wanting to work with you.
This article is adapted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Judith Humphrey’s recently published book, Impromptu: Leading in the Moment. Copyright © John Wiley & Sons. All rights reserved.