I was thinking the same
If you've ever been part of a collaborative environment, you've probably come across the phrase from the title before. It's a common pattern used by many to express a sense of belonging and support other people's ideas. In practice, it could potentially have the opposite effect.
In the past, Apple played a significant role in popularizing the concept of creating reliable and cooperative environments as a standard for developing new products.
In these environments, new ideas, creativity, and thinking outside of the box are very much appreciated and embraced by the company and peers.
However, building that environment is not something you can achieve by just putting it in your job application or company website as one of the core values, that needs to be built. Like many of the cultural topics, it takes time to build and can get out of control as the company grows.
Within this collaborative environment, I would like to emphasize a particular situation that happens when someone brings something new to the table and how that message can be easily cropped by others, without even noticing it.
Far from being something uncommon, this is a common pattern most people use, myself included, to express support.
Imagine being in an open meeting where person A takes the brave step to break the ice, challenge the status quo, and share a new and innovative idea to solve a particular problem. In the same situation, person B speaks up and says, "I was thinking the same thing." While it may seem supportive at first glance, this response can unintentionally minimize the efforts of the person who initiated the conversation.
That is just one example of phrases that can come across, other examples could be: "We've tried that before, and it didn't work.", "That's not how we do things here.", "We don't need any more ideas; we have it covered.”, among others.
Instead of encouraging further exploration and discussion of person A's idea, the quick "I was thinking the same thing" remark might unintentionally discourage others from offering alternative viewpoints or building upon the initial proposal. This could lead to missed opportunities for valuable insights and creative solutions that could enhance the project.
In a similar scenario, another pattern that I have seen is trying to be supportive by saying “I have suggested this before and nobody follow-me“, this doesn't help because you are inferring that the other didn't understand but maybe you were the one who didn't explain your idea in a way that everyone understands. Similarly saying “I told you so” with the benefit of hindsight, it doesn't bring anything useful**.**
Some alternatives that might embrace better collaboration could be something like "Let's explore this idea further together”, "You've brought up a unique perspective” or “I hadn't thought of that before, great contribution!”, just to name a few.
Acknowledging the problem
I have personally learned about this from informal feedback I got from a colleague long ago, In my head I thought that I was supporting colleagues when they were sharing new proposals with the team on daily meetings. Most probably due to the language barrier I was using the phrase “That’s great, I was thinking of doing something similar” just to let the other person know that I was truly on board. Looking back on that, it was clearly misleading. So I am glad that I got feedback from a former colleague saying that maybe my behavior was discouraging other people's way of thinking, which was clearly not my intention. So from that day onward, I try to support people that go beyond the line of creativity, that tackle the elephant in the room by asking them to share more, to promote their idea making sure I don’t take any of that credit.
Supporting others is essential, but it's important to recognize that there are more effective ways to show our support. Instead of using a blanket response, we can uplift and identify the individuals who dare to open new doors and start important conversations. Doing so empowers them and encourages others to share their ideas and opinions more freely.
From the book The Manager's Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change, I have also learned that this part is really important to take into account because senior engineers can develop bad habits, and one of the worst is the tendency to lecture and debate with anyone who does not understand them or who disagrees with what they are saying.
Being the one who initiates a discussion, especially in a large audience, requires courage and vulnerability. By offering genuine recognition, we not only show our support but also create an environment where gratitude and idea-sharing flourish.