Five Keys to Successful Collaboration

By Daniel Shapiro, Ph.D, Assocaite Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital and Associate Director of Harvard International Negotiation Project


Shapiro begins his keynote by the fantasy of how easy innovation can be—and how it crashes against the steel wall of the reality.


“The key to successful commercialization is successful collaboration,” he claims. “Think of the conflicts, the stress, the negotiations—and imagine if you can streamline that process and make it even five percent better. It’s an emotional problem, not a rational one.”


Shapiro proposes a framework for socializing the efforts, to better understand the emotional side of collaboration and deal more effectively with the emotions of others.


The primary question is how do you deal with emotions. The default is to suspend emotions, but the reality is that you cannot. Emotions are complicated and complex, but essential to the human experience and meaningful collaboration.


Don’t focus on emotions directly is his advice. Instead, take one step back and focus on core concerns. The five basic core concerns are: Appreciation, Affiliation, Role, Status, and Autonomy. If you deal well with these five concerns, you are in a better position.


Lets start with Appreciation. No one likes to feel unheard, devalued, not understood. Appreciation has a big impact on emotions. This is a key tool to getting concepts approved. How do you do it? Here are three basic tactics:

  1. Understand the other’s point of view
  2. Find merit in what they think, feel, or do
  3. Communicate your understanding


This is the most powerful tool for executives in negotiating. The key to such communication is listening—and also asking good, open-ended questions.


The next core concern is Autonomy. Autonomy is the freedom to make decisions without imposition from others. When someone’s autonomy feels imposed upon professionals get defensive.


How do you deal with Autonomy? Always consult before deciding.


Affiliation is the emotional connection between you and others. The ideal is to turn an adversary into a colleague.


To build affiliation don’t walk in and state a position. Rather, walk in as ask for advice authentically.


Status is about who is up and who is down. Status is your standing in relation with another.


The final of the five concerns is Role. We play pre-established roles. Strategy, shape your roles and theirs.


To stimulate helpful emotions:

  1. Respect autonomy
  2. Build affiliation
  3. Acknowledge status
  4. Shape a fulfilling role
  5. Express appreciation


Seek to understand all parties’ emotions.



Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit to learn more.