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How to Tell if a Collaboration Isn’t For You

Have you ever wondered why some collaborations produce extraordinary work while others fizzle out?

There was an abundance of aborted alliances in the early days of Sterling & Stone. We didn’t know ourselves well enough as a studio yet to have consistent, straightforward practices for our storytellers to thrive.

Now that there are more than forty of us, and we handle everything from short stories, novels, and scripts to perennial bestsellers for our thought leader clients at Invisible Ink, collaboration is both our art and our business.

While there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for a successful partnership, the key ingredients are by no means a total mystery. Here are some of the signs that you might have what it takes to be a great collaborator.

Traits of a Great Collaborator 

Recognizing the traits of a great collaborator can transform your approach to these creative partnerships. Let’s explore what makes someone a valuable collaborator.

Mental flexibility

  • You enjoy hearing others’ thoughts and opinions, and when someone else comes up with a great idea, you’re willing to embrace it.
  • You love trying on other people’s perspectives.
  • You believe that two people can both be right, even though they disagree about something, and you’re not afraid of ideas that disagree with what you already know.
  • You don’t have to be in charge or in control all the time; you’ll let other people take the lead.

Desire to Grow

  • You’re willing to step out of your comfort zone to learn something new or experiment with new ways of doing things.
  • When someone gives you feedback, you’re willing to consider their suggestions, and even if you decide you don’t agree, you try to understand why your collaborator feels the way they do.
  • New ideas aren’t a threat to your own beliefs, but an opportunity to see the world in a new way.


  • You consistently give more than you take, because you see your partner’s success as your success.
  • If something needs doing and you can do it, you pitch in.
  • You put your best ideas into every brainstorming session, trusting that there are more coming.
  • The people around you know that if you agree to do something, they can depend on you to do your best.
  • You don’t hold back when you think no one is looking.


  • You value your partner’s time and energy, and you don’t waste either with excuses, unnecessary drama, or extra work.
  • When you disagree, you assume that your partner has valid reasons for their opinion and you try to understand those reasons.
  • When things aren’t going well, you give them the benefit of the doubt rather than hold a bad day or a personal problem against them.

Comfortable with Conflict

  • When you have a problem with someone, you don’t pretend that everything’s fine, simply hoping the problem will go away.
  • You don’t handle it by being manipulative, passive-aggressive, or hostile. Instead, you’ll describe the issue with candor and manners, and ask other person to join you in solving the problem.
  • If the other person is angry with you, you’ll listen to their reasons, and if there’s reason to apologize or admit you’re wrong, you do.
  • Instead of focusing on blame or punishment, you’re always seeking a solution that makes things better, now and in the future.

Open to Feedback 

  • You’re not perfect — sometimes you’ll hear criticism in a comment that’s intended to be helpful — but you try to understand the feedback and consider how to best apply it.
  • You realize that there’s always more to learn and that anyone can help you see yourself more clearly, even if they’re not the person you’d naturally ask first.
  • You’re also aware of the potential to say something hurtful, and you go out of your way to deliver feedback gently and clearly whenever you are required to give it.

Here’s a short checklist that will help you evaluate your potential for becoming a great collaborator. Reflect on these questions and consider the steps you might take as you seek out a potential collaborator:

  1. Assess Your Flexibility: How open are you to new ideas, especially those that challenge your current way of thinking? Recall a recent instance where you had to adapt your perspective. How did you handle it?
  2. Evaluate Your Growth Mindset: Consider the last time you received feedback. Did you see it as a chance to grow, or did it feel like a setback? Jot down three areas you’d like to improve in related to collaboration.
  3. Reflect on Your Generosity: Think about a recent project or task. Did you give more than was expected of you? List ways in which you can offer even greater value in a collaborative setting.
  4. Examine Your Respect for Others’ Time and Energy: How do you ensure you’re being considerate of your collaborators’ contributions? Plan a small project where you can practice giving and receiving in equal measure.
  5. Comfort With Conflict: Recall a recent disagreement or conflict. How did you address it? Outline steps you could take to handle similar situations with even greater understanding and resolution in the future.
  6. Openness to Feedback: Identify a piece of feedback you struggled with. How might you respond more constructively to similar feedback in the future? Set a goal to seek out feedback actively in the next month.
  7. Identify Potential Collaborators: Make a list of people whose work you admire and who you could learn from. Consider reaching out to them with a specific idea or to start a conversation about potential collaboration.
  8. Initiate a Collaborative Project: Start small with a short story, or another manageable project. This will give you a sense of how well you work with others and what you might need to adjust for larger collaborations.

By answering these questions honestly and taking these steps, you’ll not only get a clearer picture of your readiness to collaborate, you’ll also begin laying the groundwork for successful partnerships in the future.

See you on Wednesday!