Taming the overly competitive coworker

Carlo Atienza-Sui Generis

LEARNING how to cope with different personalities at work is necessary if you want to succeed in your career. But it becomes especially challenging when you encounter an overly competitive coworker who thinks that everything is a rivalry. These are coworkers who always compare their work with yours but are defensive about their own work. And when they are called out for their substandard performance, they blame everybody and everything else but themselves. These are the coworkers who keep information to themselves and boss everyone when the supervisor is not around.

When a competitive coworker tries to irritate and provoke you, how do you deal with them without adding fuel to their antagonistic behavior? How do you position yourself so that you do not become a target of their hostile behavior? And when you do become a target, how do you protect yourself so that you do not get caught in their destructive behavior?

More often than not, competitive people are insecure about their own work, and are projecting those insecurities on others. Try to identify what is causing them to be insecure so you can avoid provoking them to be combative to you and other people. But also, be prepared that what is causing them to be competitive might be something that you are what they can never be. Some people might not be aware of their own insecurities and take it on other people unwittingly. In this case, it is not your role to point it out because that will only further antagonize them. The best you can do is to avoid them as much as you can so as not to trigger their insecurities.

If there is a need to work with them—and this often will be the case if you are in the same team—find opportunities to compliment them on things that they are doing well. People who are competitive often lack validation for the work they do, and they need to be assured that they are doing well on the job. Be genuine and look for something to compliment them about so that they will feel valued and important. Do not patronize them as this will further fan the flames of animosity. But try to look for something to compliment them with and make them feel better.

Develop positive and nurturing relationships with other coworkers. Remember that you have other team members you can rely on and collaborate with to get the work done. Focus on those coworkers who help you become better at your work and nurture those relationships by helping them out as well. With enough people collaborating and helping one another, the competitive coworker might see the error of their ways and find it in themselves to lessen their competitive streak. It might also help if you invite them to join non-work group activities so that they can be in an environment where there is no competition and people can just relax and have fun.

Focus on your own work and proactively look for opportunities to improve your deliverables. Do not sink to the level of your competitive coworker. You cannot change the behavior of others, but you have full control over your own feelings and behavior. Focus on keeping a solid track record of your accomplishments, and be above board in dealing with others. If the competitive coworker starts gossiping about you, your colleagues will be more likely to believe you if you keep your integrity intact. Do not take the bait of a competitive coworker by giving in to their provocation. If there is no need to interact with them, then focus on improving your own work deliverables.

Document your work and ensure that your manager is in the loop with the projects you are handling. Overly competitive coworkers can sometimes claim all the credit for successful projects, or exaggerate their contribution. By documenting your contribution to the project and giving your manager visibility to your accomplishments, you protect yourself and the rest of the team from a coworker inclined to hog all the accomplishments. If possible, provide a tracker to your manager listing the specific tasks assigned to people so your manager knows who did what in the project. If the competitive coworker gets all the tasks, you might have to ask your manager to intervene to spread the workload.

If they become aggressive and visibly show their displeasure to you, ask them directly why they are upset about your work. If you can do anything about what they say, then take it with a grain of salt and improve your work. However, if they are saying things to spite you, block it off and just walk away. It is possible that you are perceived as being competitive because of your exemplary work and they cannot accept that other people are doing better than they are. The best thing to do here is just walk away and let your work speak for itself.

Ask your manager to intervene but say it in such a way as to ask for recommendations on how to work better with a competitive colleague. Discuss the challenges you face with your manager but phrase it in such a manner as to focus on your own difficulties in handling work assignments with the coworker. Tell them what you have been doing to overcome those difficulties so your manager knows you have been doing something about it, and also because your manager might have insights on what more you can do. They might even assign you to work with another colleague to avoid productivity loss, or assign them to another team member who works well with them. Your manager needs to understand these team dynamics so that they can adjust the workload as needed.

An overly competitive coworker can either put you on the defensive, or provoke you to react unnecessarily. But with the right disposition and approach, you can protect yourself from their provocation and find a way to work with them smoothly. And who knows, maybe you can help them to not become overly competitive.

Image credits: Thestandingdesk on Unsplash


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