Don’t tell – ask.

Sometimes I fall victim to someone who might be called my inner dictator.  Instead of collaborating with my teammates I start trying to tell them what to do.  That doesn’t work.

My teammates may go along with me for a while, but resentment  builds up among them.  Soon I start finding it hard to communicate with them, and eventually realize that we haven’t really been communicating for some time.  Then I have to work hard to reopen the communication channels so we can talk freely again.

Here’s how to avoid that problem:

Start by asking for help with small tasks. Don’t ask for help with big tasks unless you really need it, and the person you ask has proven that they can do what they say they’ll do.

Give them room to say no. Ask them if they think they have the time, and if they’re sure their current work won’t suffer. If they say they can’t help you, don’t press them.

If someone says they’ll help you with something, don’t check up on them to make sure they’ve done it. Wait for them to tell you that they’ve done it. You’ll learn a lot about them that way.

You’ll also get the benefit of a phenomenon called signing up. Tracy Kidder described it in his book The Soul of a New Machine. People on the computer system development team that he wrote about in that book would do whatever they could to complete every task they had volunteered to perform. They moved heaven and earth to get things done when they had said they would. They had signed up to do those things and they weren’t going to let their teammates down. If you ask instead of telling and build trust, the people on your team will work just as hard not to let you and each other down.

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