Language is an amazing thing. What we say and how we say it reflects who we are and what we value. Whether you are speaking out of habit or stepping out of your comfort zone to make a point, the words that you use matter. In the past few months I’ve noticed some simple and everyday examples of how our turns of phrase can be quite egotistical and even self-centered. It’s a problem, but a very solvable one. Here are three things you can say to enhance collaboration.

Say “our”, not “my”

Do you work with someone who refers to a team they manage as “my team”? Or maybe they say “my employee”? When you think about it, using such possessive language about people is pretty weird. I understand the relationship between ownership, accountability, service and phrases like “my project” or “my client”, but actually thinking this way must be both stressful and exhausting.

My recommendation is to refer to direct reports or people you lead as “colleagues”, because formal manager roles are going out of style and great leaders build healthy communities; they don’t just impose hierarchy.

“Let’s share ideas”

Have you ever participated in a workshop and had another team use your group’s idea before you? When it’s time for your team to present your work do you say something like, “well, we had something different, but that table stole our idea”? It’s simple and subtle phrases and behaviour like this that reveal just how much competition is woven into our way of working. I’ve even written about “co-opetition” in efforts to blend co-operation and competition because the world isn’t ready for an actual, equitable sharing economy.

My recommendation is to say things like, “I am thrilled to build on your idea” or “I hope we can share this line of thinking, because it’s really awesome”. By emphasizing shared dialogue instead of idea-thievery or winners-and-losers binary opposition, you will foster environments for people to build on each other’s ideas – not just their own.

“How might we…”

Are you someone who says, “I have a problem to solve” or “I have this big piece of work to finish”? Is it clear what you’re communicating with this? Usually it gives the impression that someone is broadcasting how busy or important they are or it’s a veiled, ineffective request for help.

My recommendation is to borrow a page from IDEO’s playbook and use one of the most powerful phrases you will ever hear: how might we… Using this approach – how might we solve this problem? – you will combine possibility (“might”) with collaboration (“we”) in service of finding the best solution possible. You don’t need to – and probably can’t – solve everything yourself. Share the load and bring more people along on the journey.

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