Clash of the Colleagues: How to Deal with Competitiveness in the Workplace

As you peep over the top of your cubicle, you notice your colleague is scrolling through her Insta feed rather than updating Excel sheets and checking her emails. In some deep dark place, you feel satisfied as you diligently sit back in your uncomfortable chair and keep chugging along with your duties. Ha! Come performance review time, you’ll surely stand out, knowing that your co-worker’s quota will slip as she likes pic after pic on Jason Momoa fan pages. She’ll get reprimanded and you’ll (probably) get a promotion.

You either are this person or you work with someone with the same cutthroat mindset. The competitive employee jumps at every chance to excel and leave her peers in the dust on their way to the top. Women, especially, tend to do this in ways that are a bit more under-the-radar and far more effective in skating past everyone else as they score that major promo or close that insane deal.

Unfortunately, there are glaring negatives to working with those who feel, like Ricky Bobby, that if you’re not first, you’re last. The kind of characteristics that define these types of employees are single-minded, selfish, manipulative, and aggressive. They are the group of co-workers that are your best friend one moment, but are more than willing to sing your faults to the boss when you’re not around the next.

However, maybe they are less the devil and more simply hyper-focused on their own success. They are doing what they think is the right thing, not realizing that it incites anxiety and poor decision-making amongst fellow colleagues. Either way, competitiveness can be detrimental to the special types of bonds that are only created out of seeing and interacting with the same people every day.

Luckily, since you can’t change their tendencies, you can shift how you cope with said offenders.

Competitive people can actually motivate you to improve not only your work ethic, but also push you to think creatively, analytically, and quickly. Admire, rather than envy, their self-discipline, persistence, and confidence to fight for what they want.

These qualities, if used properly, can give your career a hand without playing hard ball. Seek out their strengths and emulate them, because no matter whether you work with them for one year or ten, you may learn valuable lessons that will carry themselves into other parts of your life.

It is important to note however, that when dealing with these types the position of the individual within the company does matter a great deal. If it is a close friend, have the courage to openly and gently address your concerns in a way that will highlight the importance of your friendship, but also your hope to maintain a productive environment. If it is your manager or boss though, it can be a completely different story.

As much as we all would love to be besties with our bosses while sipping martinis on the deck of their oceanfront mansions, this is not always the case.

Remember that their need to exert authority — no matter how critical at times — is not personal. Your best bet is to make yourself their advocate, assuring you share in their aim to win.

Basically, tell them you are in their corner and ask how you can help. You don’t have to be a teacher’s pet to gain mutual respect.

Last, but not least, always defend and stand up for yourself. If someone takes credit for your work, it is because their self-esteem and self-respect are low and you probably intimidate them. Rather than ring the alarm to your boss, learn your lesson and create a paper trail, looping in your manager when tasks or projects have been completed. If the behavior is chronic, maybe a meeting is due, but maintain professionalism at all times.

Ultimately, the first step to dealing with these issues in a healthy manner is to outline what should be left on the field before entering the office.

Charlotte Farrell is a freelance writer and editor who loves nothing more than a piping hot matcha latte and topics that explore wellness, fashion, self-care, food, climate change, feminism, beauty, fitness, and travel. She graduated with honors in Communications and English Literature from the University of California, San Diego, and is now based in NYC where she enjoys reading, writing, exploring, and dreaming about gluten-free pastries.

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