We’ve all been there: Your big idea’s stolen by a colleague at a meeting, or you were upstaged in front of the boss.
Competition happens in most work environments, whether friendly or intentional. People from different backgrounds are working closely, which can lead to great collaboration, but also to different opinions or outright competitiveness.
In the cases of an intentional co-worker who’s purposefully trying to drag you down, I’d recommend speaking to your manager (and here are tips on how to do that). But I also understand that’s not always the best move on your part.
Throughout my career, I’ve learned to use competition to my advantage.
Here are three tips for doing it:
1. Make Them an Ally
My technique for dealing with competitive co-workers throughout my career? Befriend them. I try to understand what they’re aiming to do, look at the good aspects of their challenging behavior, and try to win them over as an ally.
For example, when approaching a competitive co-worker you can say, “You had a great idea in last week’s meeting. I’m working on something similar, so I was wondering if you’d like to join forces?”
In some cases, this might mean giving up credit for your ideas. And while that’s not right for every situation, in many cases it’s more important to succeed together than to be right on your own.
I’ll be honest. This isn’t always easy. Turning competitors into allies requires a deep level of empathy, an ability to find common ground, and a concerted effort to build a new bridge. But if you’re willing to do it, it is possible. And in the end, you might end up teaching this colleague about teamwork.
2. Use it as Motivation to Improve Your Own Skills
If you’re going to reach your goals, you have to ensure you’re the best at what you do. A little competition at work is a good thing, if you channel it into self-improvement. You need to show your colleagues and your boss that you have the skills and abilities to lead.
When a competitive colleague stands in the way, use this as an opportunity to hone in on and fine tune your skills—whether it’s by signing up for an online class, working with a coach, taking more risks in your current role, or learning from other team members who also excel in that area.
Your co-worker may continue to try to one-up you, but growing and improving in your own role will keep you one step ahead. And in the end, no matter what you plan to do next, it never hurts to pick up some new skills!
3. Always Be the One Who Acts With Integrity
A recent study by Bentley University found that 84% of business leaders (including corporate recruiters) believe integrity to be the most important quality in an employee. Other highly prized qualities included professionalism (75%), a positive attitude (75%), and working well as a team player (71%).
With all this data on your side, the odds are high that a naysayer who brings down the team will be exposed at some point. But most importantly, this also means that the more morally good you are, the better you’ll turn out in the end.
So, regardless of how competitive colleagues choose to act or how frustrating it can be at times, make the decision to always be fair, accountable, and team-oriented in the work that you do. It seems idealistic, but by choosing not to engage in petty competition, your aggressive counterpart will start to stick out like a sore thumb—and they just might back off.
It would be great if we could just wish away co-workers who are constantly working against us, but the truth is the only choice we really have is to try not to let them get under our skin.
By focusing on what you can control—rather than them—you make it easy to ignore them, thrive alongside them, and even learn from them.
And that makes you the winner in the end.