Ask Alignor

Why do some people refuse to collaborate even when it might satisfy their own interests to do so?

This can be an extremely difficult and frustrating situation. Let’s face it, there are certain people who seem to thrive on conflict. They seem to perceive every interaction as a competitive event in which someone must win and the other lose. To collaborate with such a person is a huge challenge, particularly when that person feels they have been successful in the past by refusing to collaborate with others. When the person you are dealing with refuses to collaborate to the point that it harms their interests, you can find yourself in a seemingly impossible situation. Why does this happen? One possibility is you do not understand the actual interests of the other person; in that case, you may perceive that other person to be acting in a manner inconsistent with what you perceive their interests to be, whereas they are in fact acting in a manner rationally calculated to satisfy their interests as they see them. Another possibility is the person you are dealing with is so accustomed to conflict that they will not collaborate even when they could more effectively satisfy their interests by collaborating with you. In this latter case, you may want to look for ways to build trust, such as through clear, short term commitments that can be verified easily and if kept will clearly meet the needs of the other person. If you do this, you should be clear with the other person that you are making such commitments not because you are “soft” or foolish, but in order to make a sincere effort to collaborate. Depending on the circumstances, you may also want to communicate that if the other person does not reciprocate by collaborating with you, then you are prepared to impose tough consequences for that failure to collaborate. This can be necessary to determine whether you are dealing with a competitive (but rational) person, or someone who is so committed to conflict that they will destroy relationships regardless of the harm to their own interests