Collaborator vs. Competitor – Can you bridge the gap?

Are you a natural collaborator or a natural competitor?  The immediate answer from many people is I can do both.  Sure but that isn’t the question.  Understanding your natural style can be of great help in your work life.  It can have substantially deeper impact on your broader everyday life as it frames how you see and react to various situations.

A few questions to ponder.

Do you a have a strong reaction to either word — collaboration or competition?  When you hear these words, what thoughts jump to your mind?  Which word makes you feel better?



Picture a highway where traffic is moving. You are in the far left lane.  Someone up ahead quite a bit signals they are moving into the left lane.  Do you generally speed up or stay at your speed? 

When someone jumps in and starts talking to you about something you are doing, what is your reaction?  Do you see their involvement as an intrusion and/or an attempt to direct you?  Or do you start out by assuming they are interested or collaborating?

If you were standing in the First Class/Elite line at a gate to board an airplane and someone came up and asked you “Are you in First Class?”, what would you think they were asking?  How would you respond?  I witnessed this.  To me it was clear that the passenger asking wanted to figure out if it was the First Class line.  The passenger that she asked, replied “Yes, I can follow directions.”   She saw the question as a challenge to her competence rather than a need for help and collaboration.

How would you react to this recent tweet by @1paisley on Twitter?  “If U were arrested 4 being kind, would thr B enough evidence 2 convict U?” ~Author unknown.  My question here is not meant to suggest that competitors are unkind. Yet if you are turned off by this tweet, I propose that you are not a natural collaborator.

What difference does all this make?  Well both in work and in everyday life we encounter diverse people.  Relationships, teamwork, outcomes, and the possibility of success with other people depend on knowing yourself and understanding others.  

If you are a natural collaborator, realize that natural competitors may see your involvement as a competition or a challenge.  If you are a natural competitor, remember that natural collaborators may see you as uncooperative.  One key step for either type to use in bridging the gap — communicate your intention before your message.  Try it — it works!

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach

4 Responses to “Collaborator vs. Competitor – Can you bridge the gap?”

  1. Joe Williams says:

    Great post, Kate. I especially liked the questions to ponder, which really pulled me in to the topic. Communicating an intent is a clear reminder for all of us, whether we are natural collaborators or competitors.

  2. Pattie Roberts says:

    Most excellent observations, Kate! And so useful to consider in all relationship configurations. I’ve experienced all of the examples you mention and have never thought of cooperation and competition in quite this way. Similar to your First-Class line story, I was once in a meeting with a woman who had just been promoted to a VP position. In my presentation, I began discussing cost of goods sold. She snapped “I have a Master’s Degree, I understand cost of goods sold.” At the time I was a bit taken aback at her reaction, because it was not my intent to challenge her. I thought she was just an unpleasant person, particularly since she already outranked me. Reading your post, I can see that she viewed my comments as a challenge, even though her position was secure and was superior to mine.

    Interestingly, I used your “bridge the gap” suggestion about two weeks ago during a phone consult. I began by saying that, since I was not sure of the depth of my client’s knowledge and understanding of the subject, I would proceed as though they knew only the basics. I encouraged them to jump in at any point if I was speaking at too simplistic a level. I am sure I could have phrased it better, but the conversation went very smoothly and the client seemed well satisfied at the end of the call. So I can say from experience that clarifying upfront, as you suggest, is a very good idea!

    PS, taking your little “quiz” confirms for me that I am a natural collaborator, with a pinch of competitor 🙂 In a perfect world, I prefer “coopetition.”

    Great topic, Kate, thanks!



  3. Randy Bosch says:

    Thanks for the insightful post – and it compels positive, constructive action regardless of one’s “natural style”. The challenge of the “overly” collaborative and competitive folks (uber-____) remains!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks Randy. Everyone has a natural style yet as you note — positive constructive ation must ensure even when there are vast differences among people. Communication is the mechanism to bridging the gap and finding the fit!
      Here’s another post on this topic:
      Respect the Differences, Love the Differences, Find the Fit!

      I hope you will visit this Smart SenseAbilities blog again and contribute your insights to any post of interest.

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