Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader writes:

I have a co-worker who started a few months ago. He and I are responsible for similar types of projects, but we rarely collaborate because the projects don't readily lend themselves to teamwork. Occasionally, we may consult each other if we hit a technical snag with the software.

For some reason, my boss has started pushing me to work more closely with him on my projects. However, I find his finished products to be subpar, and I wouldn't want my name associated with his work. Other co-workers seek me out specifically to assist them, even when I'm slammed and he isn't.

Do you have any thoughts on how I can 1) get my boss to stop pushing the point and 2) let her know that I prefer to stick to my way of doing things without disrespecting my co-worker?

Also, why might a manager start insisting on collaboration out of the blue?

Green responds:

There are all kinds of reasons a manager might start pushing you to collaborate more with your co-worker. For example:

1. She thinks you have strengths that your co-worker lacks and thinks that he would benefit from your involvement.
2. She thinks your co-worker has strengths that you lack and thinks that you would benefit from his involvement.
3. Since your co-worker is new, she wants him to get more exposure to how your team operates and considers you a good mentor for that.
4. Without collaboration, either or both of you are missing the perspective that the other person can add, and this will avoid problems and make the work stronger.
5. She's grooming you (or him!) for a mentoring or management role.
6. She believes in collaboration for collaboration's sake.
7. Something else that I haven't thought of.

My money is on it being No. 1 or No. 3. But the only way to find out for sure is to ask your manager. And once you know that, you'll be better able to figure out how to respond.

So talk to your manager. Say something like this: "I know you've been asking for me to work more closely with Bob. Without that push, I normally wouldn't, because our projects don't have much overlap. Is there something that hasn't been working as smoothly as it could? If you can help me understand more about the outcome you're looking for, it will help me do this better."

You might hear that she knows his work isn't great, and that that's why she wants to pair him with you more. In that case, you can express your concerns about the impact that his involvement might have on your own projects (and reputation), and talk about how to manage that.

Or, if you hear that she thinks Bob can provide a helpful perspective because of his work on project X, you can figure out how to handle that. The solution might be, for instance, that you don't need to do the work with Bob, but can simply talk with him to make sure that whatever useful input he has is reflected in the work you're doing yourself.

But if instead your boss gives you a vague "collaboration is good" response, then all you can really do is explain your concerns and see if there's some other way to achieve whatever it is that she's looking for. Maybe, as above, you can "collaborate" without actually doing the work jointly (by keeping each other in the loop about your projects, for instance, or by lending him guidance about his). Or maybe she'll back off on the whole idea once she hears your concerns. Or maybe not -- but at least at that point you'll have more insight into what this directive is all about.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.