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Dealing with tensions between collaborators

John Wayne, Jean Rogers, and Ward Bond in a tense situation

No two writers are alike.

We all have different work and writing habits. We have different outlooks and different agendas. We have different quirks and foibles.

That’s all fine when we’re working on our won. But when it comes to collaborating with other writers, this disparate habits, outlooks, and the like can quickly become a source of tension. Believe me, on a collaborative project (especially one with a tight deadline) tensions can throw a very large spanner into the works.

Tensions, large and small, are inevitable when working with others. You need to quickly defuse and deal with those tensions before they knock your project off track.

Here’s some advice that can help you deal with tension between collaborators.

Don’t point the finger of blame

Doing that will only make matters worse. Anyway, when it comes to tensions in a group there’s no one person responsible.

Sure, one person might have been the catalyst, but the way you and your other collaborators (if any) reacted probably didn’t help the situation.

Instead of pointing fingers, let everyone know that a situation that’s slowing the project down has developed and that you need to take care of it as quickly as possible.

Determine the cause of the tension

Sometimes, that cause is clear. Maybe someone isn’t doing their share of the work. Maybe they aren’t communicating regularly. Perhaps they’re missing deadlines or not taking part in meetings. Maybe they’re criticizing your work and/or the work of your other collaborators.

It could also be that the your deadlines are too tight. Someone might feel that his or her ideas aren’t being listened to or taken seriously. Or maybe one or more of your collaborators isn’t engaged with their portion of the project.

You need to tread lightly here. Sound out your collaborators. Ask them if anything is bothering them or if there’s anything they think could be done better with the project.

Talk it out

Once you’ve determined the cause of the tension, it’s time to sit everyone down. You need to get everything out in the open and clear the air.

That can be tough. At this point, people can get defensive. Very defensive. Try to keep everything as civil as possible. Again, don’t go pointing fingers or assigning blame.

Instead, try to find a compromise. If, for example, one of your collaborators is missing meetings try to suggest a different time for those meetings. If they’re not passionate about the part of the project they’re working on, try to arrange a swap.

Understand that whatever solution you come up with might not please everyone. You can’t expect it to. The best outcome you can hope for in many cases is that the tensions are decreased and you can continue your work.

Fire your collaborator

If the tensions continue, or if the person won’t change their behaviour, you need to make a clean break.

Doing that could seriously, or irreparably, harm your relationship with the writer in question. But you have to weigh that against the success of your project.

To be honest, I’ve never had to fire a collaborator. And, to be honest, I hope I never do.

Final thoughts

Working with other writers can sometimes be a balancing act. You might have to play the fulcrum, maintaining the balance. Remember, though, that the success or failure (at the very least, the quality) of your writing project could depend on eliminating or lessening those tensions.

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