Listening, self-expression, flexibility – three keys to effective interaction with others

By Elisabeth Goodman, 7th January 2020

Quote from: Francesca Gino’s “Cracking the code of sustained collaboration”, Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 2019, p.72-81

As we begin a new year, and a new decade, finding ways that we can get on better  with each other at work, in our families, and in all spheres of life has got to be a good thing!

Francesca Gino’s article with her great tips for effective collaboration came out just at the end of last year.  For me they come down to three key concepts:

  1. Listen to really understand the other person’s perspective
  2. Clearly express your own needs and intentions to help others understand what they are
  3. Be prepared to be flexible and adapt to achieve an outcome that works as well as possible for others as well as yourself

Listen to really understand the other person’s perspective

As Francesca Gino points out, there is a lot of emphasis in academia and in business on being able to talk: to make a good impression, to get our points across in meetings, to give effective presentations.

But listening is what makes all the difference to having effective discussions with others.  If we take the time to listen, ask open questions, allow the other person the space and time for reflection, we will better understand their perspective.  The quality of discussion will be some much better.

We can learn to listen empathetically: picking up on their tone and body language for underlying emotions, and communicating our understanding of the other’s perspective and situation.  (This is different from sympathy – we are not required to enter into the same emotional state!)

clearly express your own needs and intentions

A lot of tension, misunderstanding and conflict comes from not wanting to say what we really think or feel. Or we expect others to guess what might be going on with us and then get frustrated or annoyed when they don’t.

So we can develop our skills in expressing what we think and feel, and what outcomes we want, in a way that is respectful of the other person.

Likewise, we can learn to provide feedback, positive and constructive, in a way that is objective, specific and focuses on the other person’s behaviour rather than their personality.

be prepared to be flexible and adapt..

This is all about seeking ‘win-win’ outcomes as opposed to being in a competitive mindset.

We can work on the basis that the other person’s ideas and perspectives will always have some value, and we can look at ways of building on them.

Saying ‘and’ rather than ‘but’ is a very simple although sometimes surprisingly difficult small step towards this mindset.

Francesca Gina also suggests that leaders and managers can learn to follow as well as to lead as another way to cultivate flexibility.  This requires humility for instance in recognising that others might sometimes have better information or insights for making decisions. It also requires trust for instance in being able to delegate rather than seeking to keep control.


This is, for me, an excellent collection of tips that leaders and managers can explore as they develop their own, and their team members’ skills in 2020 and beyond.

RiverRhee delivers training, workshops and one-to-one coaching in a range of management and team member skills

The tips resonate well with the coaching skills that we share on RiverRhee’s management and leadership courses, and with previous blogs on dealing with difficult situations, people and conflict.

See for example:

Conflict is the “lifeblood of high performing organisations”

Re-building working relationships with emotional intelligence

The manager as coach: creating an environment that is conducive to thinking

What to do when the difficult person is your boss?


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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