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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Keeping the Peace: When You & a Co-Worker Want the Same Promotion

Opportunities for promotion don’t come around very often, so when they do, you may find yourself competing with a colleague for the same spot. Suddenly, your congenial workplace can turn into an episode of Survivor: The Concrete Jungle, with each person gunning for his or her own success at the expense of everything and everyone else.

Fortunately, though, you don’t have to choose between getting a raise and maintaining a good relationship. We’ve outlined three of the common mistakes people make in this scenario that can quickly turn office friends into office frenemies.

Mistake #1: Saying Nothing

While this strategy might (emphasis on might) minimize conflict, it can also put a lot of strain on your relationship. After all, it’s hard to maintain good rapport when you’re tip-toeing around such a major issue or fearing that another co-worker will bring the topic up at happy hour.

Our Solution

Don’t let the awkwardness build. A simple, “Hey, I heard that you’re applying for that Project Manager position. I also put in my application, but I think that you’d do a great job, too” eliminates any weirdness and helps create a positive, we’re-all-in-this-together vibe that sets the tone for the entire promotion process. Once you’ve addressed the elephant in the room, you’ll feel more relaxed and can chit-chat about the common interests that made you friends in the first place (or get back to focusing on the work at hand).

Mistake # 2: Playing Dirty

When the stakes are high, it can be tempting to undermine the competition—i.e., it might not seem so bad to let your boss know that you had to reschedule a meeting because your co-worker was running late (again). You don’t want to directly sabotage anyone’s chances, but you also want to remind your boss why you’re the best one for the job.

Our Solution

Schemes to make yourself look good by making your co-worker look bad almost always backfire. In the best-case scenario, your underhanded efforts will help you get the job but will cost you a friendship and make it impossible to have a good working relationship with that person in the future. Worst case, your boss will see right through your attempts to sink the competition. It might even make him or her decide that you’re not mature enough for the promotion—especially if you’re applying for a leadership position.

So, focus on being the best employee you can be, and leave it to your boss to determine who’s best suited for the job. Even if you don’t get the promotion, at least you’ll have your dignity.

Mistake #3: Being a Bad Loser (or Winner)

It can be really, really hard to keep your composure when you lose out on a big promotion. I’ve seen people act out in all kinds of crazy ways, from storming out of the office to “accidentally” leaving their resumes up on their computer screens to let everyone know they’re searching for other jobs.

Likewise, in the excitement of winning, it can be easy to hurt your friend’s already fragile feelings. The last thing that your co-worker wants to do is listen to you tell the rest of the office your “great news” or gush about how you’re going to celebrate your salary increase with a night out on the town.

Our Solution

If you lose, lose gracefully. Congratulate the other person on his or her success, letting him or her know that you think they picked the right person for the job (even if you secretly know you would have done better). If you’re feeling really disappointed, give yourself a long lunch or a few minutes in your car to recuperate, or call your (non-work) BFF. It’s better to remove yourself from the situation than to have a teary-eyed meltdown at your desk.

If you come out on top, don’t flaunt your success. Step out of the office before you call your friends and family with the news (I promise that your cell phone conversations are louder than you think), and keep celebrations to a minimum. Trust me—this isn’t the time to invite the entire office out to happy hour to in honor of your big raise.

Promotions come and go, but work relationships must endure. By being open, playing fair, and keeping your cool no matter what the outcome, you can make sure that a little competition doesn’t ruin your relationship.

Photo of co-workers courtesy of Shutterstock.