Trust and Communication

Although it goes without saying that trust and communication are essential building blocks for collaboration, these two components for effective relationships are not simple to achieve.

My husband and I are currently fostering a Goldendoodle named Riley (pictured here). We are committed to adopting rescue dogs and giving them the best homes possible. My dog allergies make adoption difficult for us and prevent us from bringing home needy but shedding dogs from the humane society. Riley has been with us for just one week. We are taking very small steps since Riley was not well socialized for the first two years of his life, slowly building trust, and learning to communicate with one another.

This experience reminds me of the challenges of building trust among colleagues. Trust is built when all parties show they are trustworthy.

Being trustworthy involves:
•    Being honest and truthful;
•    Practicing consistent and clear communication;
•    Responding to requests and saying “yes” whenever possible;
•    Keeping commitments.

Synonyms for trustworthy include dependable, reliable, and responsible.

It is difficult or even impossible to build trust without communication. Just as Riley has brought his prior experiences of (or lack thereof) dog-human relationships, so do collaborating educators bring their prior experiences.

While everyone can probably name a time when a colleague dropped the ball and collaborative work did not meet our expectations, it is important to enter into each new partnership with an open mind and heart. It is also essential to communicate.

For me, disappointments in “collaborative work” happen when partners have different definitions of collaborative work. In my experience, not all people make the distinctions I make between cooperation, coordination, and collaboration.

Simply dividing the work with each person doing their “part” is cooperation. Cooperation is informal, short term, and lacking in planning effort; each individual maintains authority, and there is no joint mission or structure. Coordination requires a longer duration; the relationships are a bit more formal with an understood mission, a specific focus that requires some planning. Often one person will take the lead in coordination and the other(s) will simply follow along. While there is more intensity in coordination than in cooperation, authority is still maintained by the individuals involved.

Collaboration is a way of working together. It involves communication in which equal partners determine and set out to achieve specific goals and objectives. Collaborative partners are interdependent; they are jointly responsible for the entire project, not just for “their” individual parts. They provide each other with feedback and push each other to do their best. They are committed to succeeding together and in the final analysis, cannot separate their individual work from the collective whole.

There are many electronic tools that allow educators to communicate and collaborate effectively. In terms of collaboration, one of the potential pitfalls is that it is easy to use some of these tools to cooperate or coordinate our work without ever having a collaborative experience.

For example, when we use a Google Drive document and simply do “our part,” we are not collaborating. In order to utilize this tool for collaboration, we must be leaving comments and feedback for our partners, asking each other questions, or better yet, scheduling a real-time time conversation over chat, Google Hangouts, or other tools to bounce ideas off each other and work toward a shared understanding of what will constitute a high-quality outcome for our work.

I have fallen into the trap of disappointment in “collaborative work” when there was no shared understanding or clear communication among partners. Hoping for collaboration is not enough, especially when I know that the final product could have been so much better if we had developed the necessary trust at the beginning of the project.

Thank you to Riley for reminding me how challenging and how essential it is to build trusting relationships and how clear communication is a first step toward that end.