How to... cooperate

Opinion is divided on whether humans are naturally cooperative or not. The fact that no one seems to be able to agree on this question is a pretty good answer in itself. Because cooperation doesn't come naturally but requires incredibly complex rules: these take the form of constitutions for societies, marriage vows for relationships and terms and conditions for skip hire.

People are drawn together because some tasks are too big for one person. They say too many cooks spoil the broth, but they also say many hands make light work. The trick is having one person work on the soup and the rest on the electrics.

The best kind of cooperation is when you work with people who are good at what you're bad at and bad at what you're good at. This rarely happens because most jobs require one person being good at something and the other one holding the ladder.

Mutual self-interest is the real driver of cooperation. Things happen fastest when everyone involved benefits. The model for this is John Lewis not Cuba, and the big difference is whether people agree to cooperate or are told to.

The first step towards mutual cooperation is to listen. For this you have to make the huge act of faith that the other person is not a colossal fathead. Don't forget that the other person is making an equally large allowance for you. Agreeing to disagree is where you understand what the other person thinks but you believe their ridiculous opinion is based on their flawed character, their weak intellect and their deep-seated selfishness.

An essential part of cooperation therefore is a little give and take. This doesn't mean they give and you take. Rather, it means everyone making a few compromises. A bad compromise is where everyone feels hard done by and a good compromise is where everyone thinks they got away quite lightly.

Some people don't like working with others because they want to do things their own way. Others see cooperation as a blissful escape from being forced to work on their own. Most small businesses are based on one person doing things his way and the rest of the staff also doing things his way. Your wage packet shows how much you're being paid to cooperate.

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