Collaboration and the feeling of competence

Some thoughts on how to make people feel more competent.


At work, people will directly feel threatened when they fear being humiliated, failing at a task, or if they don’t know if they will be able to do something. I think many people believe that they keep their jobs based on their competence, and therefore fear to ask for help or to work on something that might fail. When calling for a meeting make sure people know why they are there and what you expect of them, and at the start of the meeting it is so easy to reiterate it. I often try to give people clear roles during a meeting or workshop, and I love to call people for experts. If Jim told you that Mary could help you with the task you are working on, then try starting the conversation with this “Jim told me you were the expert on this so I could use your help.” Most people will usually respond with “I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I can try to help you.” In other cases, they will say that you should talk to someone else instead because they know it better, and that is fine as well. But most people will feel much more competent and safe at their work after the exchange.

I use the same technique while calling for meetings with individuals who don’t know one another that well, or where I am uncertain of who to invite. I write a clear goal for the meeting and then add a role list, e.g.:
• Mary – Customer Experience expert
• Tom – Product Y expert
• Jane – Project manager for Y