The Career

4 Ways to Deal With a Competitive Coworker

Ever had to deal with a direct coworker who may be doing the most to outshine or outperform you? Read on.

Some people thrive in competitive environments. These people are generally ones who love to win, because competition is almost always part of a zero-sum game: for one to win, another must lose.

If you love competition, this blog post is not for you. You’re fine. Go get ’em.

For the others – I am here for you. I am not competitive in the slightest. I absolutely do not thrive in competitive environments, and I feel insulted and tend to retreat when I feel as though someone is competing with me. Am I happy about this? Nope. I wish I could get stimulated by the pressure and push through until I’m where I want to be, but it’s just not in my nature. That’s why I write (a safe, non-confrontational, non-athletic sport) and have always avoided sports, the career field of politics and will never participate in a friendly game of paintball.

But guess what?

Life doesn’t always work out the way we want it to. One day, you might be thrown into the middle of a vicious, life or death game of paintball and it’s either hide and hunt or drop and be paintballed to oblivion. A more realistic example would be that you might one day face a little bit of competition in the workplace. If you’re a person who prefers intrinsic motivation (motivating yourself from the inside, competing with yourself) to external motivation (a competitive coworker), a competitive workplace or competitive coworker can be very intimidating and draining, since you will most likely see them as a threat instead of a challenge. If you find yourself in this situation, here are 4 ways to deal with a competitive coworker:

Perform With Excellence

The worst thing to do when you’re feeling threatened is to allow yourself to get so frustrated or anxious that it affects your work. Notice how I say “allow yourself” – I say this because it’s a choice. Amidst the pressure coming from your competitive coworkers, you need to choose to step back and regain focus on the task at hand, which is your work. You can’t control how someone else acts (unless you want to resort to sabotage or blackmail, both of which I don’t endorse). What you can control is how you act and perform. At work, the only indisputable and objective rating is performance and productivity. Don’t get caught up in the drama of your coworkers one-upping each other or yourself – be the consistent, composed worker who isn’t phased. It’ll pay off, because when things get heated as they often do during competitions, you’ll be chilling on your desk and sipping your coffee, glad you got out of the kitchen early.

Stand Up for Yourself

If your coworker is competitive to the point where they are stealing your ideas/work; hiding information from you which hinders your performance; or talking trash about you to your boss, you’re no longer dealing with a competitive coworker, but also a toxic one. In this case, you may need to stand up for yourself. If you’ve already spoken to them and they’ve either denied it or haven’t changed anything, you have two options, depending on your personality type. If you’re confrontational, the best thing to do would be to address it with the coworker directly as issues happen, and get your boss involved if they don’t quit their behaviour, for the “sake of the team’s overall performance”. The other less confrontational options are to make sure you let your boss know every project you’re working on and sending them regular updates, asking your boss to ensure they deliver messages to you directly since the other team members may “forget” to pass them on sometimes, or tell your boss you think the team needs to work in a more collaborative manner, as some members may have the idea that it is a competitive environment.

Most managers want their team to be cohesive and collaborative – it makes for greater efficiency. But sometimes, you need to take a look at your workplace and see – are they fostering a competitive environment from the top-down? Do they have an agenda to pin employees against each other in competition to enforce productivity? If that’s the case and you don’t like competition, this may not be the place for you. For me, I love being challenged – I hate being in competition. They are two very different things.

Brush it Off Your Shoulders

“He who angers you, controls you.”

What is the opposite of love? It isn’t hate. It’s indifference.

If you allow the negative vibes of a competitive coworker to get to you, it will eventually consume you, and you will find it affecting multiple parts of your life, including your work performance. And guess what? This coworker might use your energy to fuel them! Competitive people are often like that – they need someone else to be competing with them for them to feel whole. If you’re indifferent, it won’t be as fun for them. And even if it is, what does it matter to you? You shouldn’t be draining yourself trying to keep up with someone going at 100km/h and then crashing – you should go at a steady 80km/h indefinitely. Mixing yourself into the negative competition will do you no good.

Accept & Respect Others’ Differences

At the end of the day, all of us are different, and we need to be accepting of each other’s differences. Your coworker may be competitive and may not mean any harm by it – at the end of the day, sometimes competitiveness comes from a place of insecurity, so you should never judge too soon. They may just like friendly competition, and you’ve been taking it the wrong way the whole time. Everyone should be allowed to behave in the manner in which they choose – and your choice should be to respect it, and if it doesn’t suit you, brush it off. When we look at the bigger picture, it’s only work, right? You’ve got so much more going for yourself.

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