Liking Won’t Cut Climate Change Collaboration Needs

We tend to like people that are similar to ourselves. If you like someone, as in a friend at school or in the workplace, then you naturally and effortlessly collaborate with them to solve each other’s challenges and figure out things to do together. However, collaboration leads to the best results when there are multiple perspectives involved, perspectives different than our own from people not like us. For example, multiple perspectives are particularly needed when you are confronting challenging topics. One of the most challenging topics we are confronting as a society today is addressing the impacts of climate change. I was reminded of this last week at ACCO’s (Association for Climate Change Officers) Climate Strategies Forum in Washington D.C. One thing that was made clear at the conference session on determining the best climate policy approach for your organization; time is too short to be developing climate action and adaptation plans without collaboration because we can not afford creating plans that sit on shelves. So how do you collaborate with people who are not like you, who you may not like, and who may not like you?

First of all, liking is over-rated when it comes to collaboration. Liking has been tied to influencing as an approach to marketing products and services. Robert B. Cialdini discusses liking as one of six social techniques to influence in his 2003 book (see Cialdini explains that people are more likely to purchase products and services and agree to offers from someone they like than from someone they do not like. Cialdini further explains the factors involved in liking. For example, people tend to like those who make them laugh, who are similar to them, and who pay them compliments. He also described the “halo” effect when we perceive someone who is physically attractive as smarter and more talented than they actually are compared to others. Finally, he cites that people who are forced to cooperate to achieve a common goal tend to form a trust with those people. Cialdini concludes that any one of these approaches to getting people to like you may not influence people; however, influence can be magnified by using these approaches in combination.

Collaborating with people who are not like you, who you may not like, and who may not like you gets to the emotional side of collaboration. The intellectual or cognitive side of collaboration typically comes easy and it is often the emotional or affective side of collaboration that is the challenge (see Fortunately, emotional intelligence is far more important than liking when it comes to effective collaboration.

According to Bradberry and Greaves in The Emotional Intelligence Quickbook (see for a review), emotional intelligence is the exchange that happenes between the limbic system, where emotions are experienced, and sensation as it travels from the one end of the brain where it enters to the opposite end where complex thinking occurs. Bradberry and Greaves describe four skills that define the ability to manage emotional intelligence as follows:

  1. Self- awareness: the skill to identify one’s emotions and be conscious of them as they happen, and to be able to manage one’s reaction to certain situations and people.
  2. Self-management: the skill to stay alert of one’s emotions, to drive positive behavior towards those emotions, and to address all possible emotional reactions for all situations and for all people.
  3. Social awareness: the skill to correctly recognize emotions of others and their possible effects such as to be able to understand other people’s thoughts and sense their feelings.
  4. Relationship management: the skill to successfully manage interactions by using awareness for one’s own emotions and those of others such as to provide clear communication to all involved and effectively handle conflict.

More recently in 2013, Christine Brooks in The Social Brain (see describes the strategies to develop social intelligence as follows: “Daniel Goleman (2006), a psychologist and science writer, popularized the concept of social intelligence or the skills and abilities that enable successful social interaction….Goleman breaks social awareness down into 4 qualities: primal empathy, attunement, empathic accuracy, and social cognition (location 1599). In short, these qualities mean that a person is able to tune into and read emotional expressions and cues from others and also understand how social interactions function. Social facility includes the abilities of synchrony, self-presentation, influence, and concern (location 1605), the qualities of smoothly and accurately navigating social interaction. While individuals are born with varying levels of these abilities, Goleman and others including Daniel Siegel, believe that through the cultivation of self awareness and mindfulness, or present-centered attention to our thoughts and feelings, we can improve our social interactions. Siegel popularized the utilization of the insight meditation technique of mindfulness as a process for understanding our own minds and gaining greater ability to regulate our emotions and thoughts in order to become more mindful. He refers to the skill of awareness as “mindsight” or the ability to perceive our own minds and relate to the minds of others. In light of recent research demonstrating the ongoing neuroplasticity of the human brain, individuals learn through imitation (Iacaboni, 2009) and cultivate self-awareness through techniques such as meditation and social mirroring (Siegel, 2010; Iacaboni, 2008), further tightening the links both within the individual brain, and, across brains within a social network.”

From this body of work, it is seen that emotional intelligence, or more recently social intelligence, is key to influencing others and engaging in rewarding interactions, such as collaboration, with others, whether or not you like them.

Antonio Damasio (1999), one of the founders of the Brain and Creativity Institute at University of Southern California, described consciousness as follows: “At its simplest and most basic level, consciousness lets us recognize an irresistible urge to stay alive and develop a concern for the self. At its most complex and elaborate level, consciousness helps us develop a concern for other selves and improve the art of life.” This definition describes the emotional maturity journey from survival, to concern for self, to concern for others, and, ultimately, to improving life for all. It seems only fitting that emotional intelligence be a key ingredient to improving life for all.

With emotional intelligence, you can get people together to discuss how taking action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will bring value to your organization. It will be more challenging to do this if the responsibility for climate change in your organization is within your environmental compliance department rather than in a separate business department. However, with emotional intelligence, I believe it is still possible. Collaboration harnesses the power of human connection to tackle any challenge. Contact Valerie at 412-742-9675 or for help or to learn more.