I experienced a smidgen of what a young person might feel when collaborating with elders. Following my abbreviated summary, I’ll offer a few reflections on how to avoid the Rubber Stamp Syndrome where one feels as though they need to go along to get along. Spoiler alert: Don’t jump to the end.
Here’s what happened.
On short notice, I agreed to help facilitate an online workshop about how young people can participate in the public policy arena. I had no previous interaction with my co-presenter but knew they was not a novice. After only a minute or two sharing about our relevant experience, backgrounds, they shared their set of Google slides. My initial reaction was appreciation that they had done the heavy lifting.
- I had been preoccupied with a deadline and their initiative saved me time in developing an outline together.
- Another benefit: they knew the audience better than me.
- Their confidence and competence encouraged me to assume the role as backup singer rather than sharing the mic.
Then my attitude shifted.
Everything from the sequence of slides to the font size seemed set. They assured me we could change anything but that would bring into question their expertise. Teamwork and flexibility are in my DNA but I began to withdraw. It would be awkward for me to raise alternative or additional topics and this process could mean another 30-minute discussion. Rather than offer other suggestions, I expressed my appreciation that they serve as the lead presenter. Even though I wanted this subordinate role, the absence of a co-creative process actually bothered me.
Is this how young people feel when collaborating with adult(s)? When asked for their ideas and input, do they feel is it too late? Do they sense there is little room to add new material or start from scratch?
Guaranteeing Genuine Collaboration
The presentation went smoothly. I chimed in a handful of times and tried not to interrupt their flow. Now for the part I left out: My workshop partner was 16 years old. This experience proved to be a superb reminder about the illusion of intergenerational collaboration.
Is it possible to avoid the Rubber Stamp Syndrome? Our interactive workshop dives deep into this chronic problem but here are just a few opening rounds to set the stage for equal footing in the co-creation process.
- Rapport – Start talking about something fun, weird, topical or newsworthy (less contrived than an icebreaker). Hopefully something you hear will spark your curiosity that keeps the two-way conversation relaxed.
2. Profiles – Share a few interesting and relevant highlights about your professional background but make sure not to drown out or intimidate. Without sounding like an interrogator, follow up with questions about their experiences and what sparked initial interest in this cause and/or organization.
3. Background – Give a brief rundown on the organization’s priority, goal, current situation, issue at hand, etc. and ask the preferred media for sharing more info (IG, Twitter, video, webinar, infographic, annual report, etc.).
4. Brainstorm – Introduce a future project or perhaps a dilemma and then volunteer that you don’t know have the answer or know how best to proceed. Ask for any immediate thoughts and then figure out together next steps and when to continue the discussion.