In my recent travels, I had occasion to meet for the first time another scientist who has been working on something very similar to one of my projects, but with no communication between us. I could have taken the initiative and emailed him once I learned of his research, but since I started working on this topic first, I had trouble thinking of a good way to email someone I don't know and not sound aggressive or territorial or paranoid. So, we have both been uncertain about the other's work, plans, and personalities.
As it turns out, I like him a lot. We had several great conversations and spoke at length about our similar research interests/project. We ironed out some differences that I think will be important for both of us as we publish our results, and found that we have more common ground than either expected.
There is some overlap in our work, but now I think of it as the good kind of overlap -- just enough so that we're reproducing essential results but not so much that we are duplicating effort. Another positive effect of actually meeting this person and talking to him is that I now feel like I have a new colleague instead of a competitor, and I think he feels the same way. We have plans to stay in communication and share results rather than scurry to publish first. I suppose we could have worked this out sooner via e-mail, but I think this in-person meeting was essential for creating such an amicable situation.
7 years ago