Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Successful Collaboration Requires Utilization of Effective Communication Strategies

Personal or professional growth is often metaphorically linked to reaching new heights.  High expectations require us to grow and change beyond the status quo.  Personal change always entails more effort than maintaining inertia, which remains constant so long as no forces interact upon it. 

As noted in the February 2014 post, when seeking professional or personal development, better results occur when acting our way into right thinking rather than merely trying to think ourselves into right action.  When learning to truly embrace and promote empowered collaborations, it is helpful to reflect upon which mindset will be utilized prior to engagement.  With practice, a mindset elevating the tenets of peace, joy, and love become evident in ALL your relationships. 

Given a “right” mindset, we can more effectively utilize learned communication skills.  A mindset seeking to elevate the tenets of peace, joy, and love, provides a fertile place for subsequent growth in collaboration skills.  The balance of this treatise discusses the development of better collaboration through utilization of more effective communication strategies.  These will include aspects of active listening, the eight types of non-verbal communication, the utilization of better questions, and the ten-step process for effective collaborative consultation.

Previously, active listening was identified as a core element for building strong collaborative partnerships.  This is important for lifelong learning because, “the weaker the connection you have with someone, the harder it is to get your point across” (Bradberry & Greaves, 2009, p. 44).  Based on the information process model for learning (Ashcroft, 1994), active listening therefore promotes active learning.  As described by Gordan (1970), active listening requires the effective use of silence, paraphrasing, acknowledging without judgment, clarifying, and exhibiting empathy.  Covey (1989) exemplified four aspects of listening, including:

  1. Ignoring, (this is obvious),
  2. Pretending, which usually involves hearing but not processing the information,
  3. Selective listening, which involves processing only parts of the message,
  4. Attentive listening, which involves paying attention and focusing upon what is being said.

            Traits that affect listening effectiveness were initially described by Pearce, Johnson, and Barker (2003) and then presented as Table 1 Ladyshewsky& Vilkinas, (2011): 
Objectivity:  Staying neutral and not getting involved emotionally, enhances listening.
Age:  Listening increases with age, until you get very old.
Open Mindedness:  Having an open mind improves your ability to listen.
Level of self-centeredness:  Over-preoccupation with self-image, knowledge or importance reduces effective listening.
Focus:  Don't do multiple tasks when trying to listen.
Intelligence:  A moderate relationship exists between intelligence and listening.
Level of anxiety and stress:  Stress lowers our ability to listen.
Managerial rank:  Managers tend to listen better than subordinates.
Presence of problems:  Diminishes hearing.
Gender:  Women are generally considered better listeners; men prefer to listen to the general, women to the details.

             Since The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (Darwin, 1872), research on the effects and expressions of non-verbal communication and behavior has been ongoing.  Research focuses upon eight main types of non-verbal communication: 

1.     Facial Expression

2.     Gestures

3.      Para-linguistics (tone of voice, loudness, inflection and pitch)

4.     Body Language and Posture

5.     Proxemics (personal space)

6.     Eye Gaze

7.     Haptics (touch)

8.     Appearance

            Nonverbal behaviors comprise a large percentage of daily interpersonal communication (Cherry, 2011).  Persuasion is not done through conversation alone.  Effectively using all eight types of non-verbal communication can dramatically increase a person’s persuasive power.  Since human interaction is about action, interaction, and transaction, then a “Helical Model of Communication exhibits how communication never loops back onto itself.  It begins at the bottom and expands infinitely as the communication partners contribute their thoughts and experiences to the exchange” (Beebe, Beebe, & Ivy, 2004, p 16). 

Collaboration between educational stakeholders improve whenever questions are planned to lead to answers that require more questions.  Theoretically, a perfect convergent, or closed-ended, question would have only one answer.  By contrast, a perfect divergent, or open-ended, question would have infinite answers.  The partner seeking effective collaboration understands the better question usually is the one that provides the most answers.

Usually, a change in school climate is required to optimize development of professional learning communities and other stakeholder relationships.  Effective leaders systemically plan for professional development and encourage utilization of action research to improve collaboration, instruction, and classroom assessment (Marzano & Waters, 2008).  Scheduled staff collaboration improves school-wide research practices.  Professionals readily sharing their successful strategies for optimizing stakeholder relationships and willingly conducting action research optimize life-long learning, which thereby promotes sustained educational improvement.

A ten-step process for collaborative consultation was identified by Walther-Thomas et al., (2000).  With a cursory examination, the process may appear to be a loop process.  However, as is common with most action research approaches, the process embraces the Helical Model of Communication, thereby encouraging the good to become better.  Following are the ten-steps within the collaborative consultation process, including examples for implementation of each step:   

  1. Prepare for the consultation:
    1. Focus upon the targeted area of concern, organize materials, prepare several possible strategies, and arrange for a comfortable meeting place
  2. Initiate the consultation:
    1. Establish rapport, focusing upon the concern, creating a collaborative climate
  3. Collect information:
    1. Seek data and make notes, identifying additional data needs, summarizing information
  4. Identify the problem:
    1. Focus on needs, state what the problem is or is not, identifying desirable circumstances
  5. Articulate the goal statement:
    1. Identify issues, avoiding jargon, encourage expressions of concerns, develop a concise goal statement, check for agreement
  6. Generate solutions:
    1. Problem-solve collaboratively, generate alternative interventions, suggest examples, review options and likely consequences, select the most reasonable alternative
  7. Formulate a plan:
    1. Specify tasks for intervention, establish responsibilities, create evaluation criteria and methods, agree on the timeline for the review progress
  8. Evaluate progress and process:
    1. Conduct the scheduled review session, review data and analyze results, keep artifacts to document progress, assess the collaboration process, make positive and supportive comments
  9. Follow up on the situation:
    1. Reassess progress periodically, support effort and reinforce results, continue the plan for further improvement, make adjustments as necessary, bring closure when goals are met
  10. Repeat consultation as appropriate:
    1. Include other stakeholders as apropos, embracing diversity and inclusion

In order to optimize success, goals require a shared vision, an action plan, and stakeholder commitment,.  Lezotte and Snyder (2011) found the most significant feature common to world-class schools “was their continual effort toward becoming “learning organizations with a commitment to continuous problem-solving and a sense of shared responsibility for improvement” (p. 67).  A consistent exhibition of vision toward a clear mission, commitment to learning for all, and shared responsibility for success certainly appears to be minimal requirements to promote an effective, collaborative school culture.  Development of an inclusive, inviting culture requires effective, consistent, collaboration rather than reliance upon fear or intimidation as the primary impetus for change.


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 To Cite:

Anderson, C.J. (June 4, 2014) Successful collaboration requires utilization of effective

communication strategies [Web log post]Retrieved from