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Home / Career Tips

High stakes of workplace rivalry

 Competition increases testosterone levels which prepare the body and mind to go the extra mile (Courtesy)

Healthy competition is always welcome at work. It can be enough motivation for colleagues to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Science suggests that competition increases testosterone levels which prepare the body and mind to go the extra mile.

Collaboration and team work has been the backbone of many organisations. Competition also reduces laziness by pulling employees out of their comfort zone and increases employee ownership on performance. On the other hand, rivalry rooted in envy is a seed for antagonism and a host of other mistakes.

When competition goes sour, it is likely that an organisation will notice undue stress and a drop in productivity among employees.

Peers can be seen at a state of constant attack mode that triggers emotional responses that come out in less than professional tones.

Employees with relatively large egos can allow envy and rivalry to get intense.

How to spot unhealthy rivalry

In her study on workplace rivalry among sales employees and university students working on group projects, Professor Hillary Elfenbein found out that even though workplace competition is normal, rivalry happens when it becomes personal.

The pandemic induced economic uncertainty is bad enough. With pay cuts and employees trying to maintain their jobs, the competition is likely to escalate to rivalry between coworkers.

So if you notice that your efforts and ideas are deliberately being blocked, or there is some unfair treatment towards you, you could be looking at a potential rival.

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If you do not rise above it, the situation may bring a negative psychological impact. You will end up experiencing anxiety, worry and self-doubt and your work performance and personal life may be affected.

Truth be told, some industries thrive in competition. For instance, marketing and entertainment industries are relatively more competitive than engineering.

Since you are likely to be employed alongside equally talented and competent individuals, you are likely to find yourself in competition mode at some point.

Rivalry is rooted in envy and insecurities between individuals. How much do you care when a colleague seems to be performing better than you?

Do you clap for them or do you analyse how you will snatch their pride and joy? Why would your colleague be such a significant point of reference for your comparison?

Does your rivalry present a possibility for unsafe behavior? Research from Brigham Young University suggests that intense rivalry puts employees at a “gloves are off” situation where caution is thrown out the window and anything goes. This aspect causes turmoil in the office and culminates into a toxic work environment.

 When a colleague performs better than you, do you clap for them or do you analyse how you will snatch their pride and joy? (Shutterstock)

Here is what to do when rivalry becomes stormy at the workplace:

1. Do not take it personally

Your colleague may feel threatened by your success and directs some sense of hostility towards you. Keep doing what your job demands and you will learn about strengths and weaknesses you never knew you had.

Even though keeping calm is easier said than done, stressing over your rival is worse. Let things flow naturally while staying cautious for malice and sabotage.

At the end of the day, you will come out calmer and more aware of competition.

If you need to address certain issues such as an overly sarcastic, uncollaborative and a passive-aggressive attitude, do it professionally while involving the right authority.

Sweeping such issues under the carpet incubates a spiteful workplace. In addition, refrain from making those sassy responses in front of others; you will become vulnerable to provocation.

2. Stay focused

It is natural to lose focus when you know you have a work enemy. To counter this, acknowledge that both you and your rival were hired to contribute to a common goal.

Remember what motivates you to have a job in the first place. “The best way to make a point is to be good at what you do,” says career coach Val Olson.

Do not get distracted. Instead, work on self-improvement to rise above the competition. If you fall into the trap of your individual agenda, you will both underperform in the company’s objectives. You may even find yourself fired and replaced with no regrets.

3. Never ask other co-workers to pick a side

You will definitely put the rest of the team at a difficult position. It also exposes your lack of self-confidence.

Let your other coworkers be. Do not be the agent of cold wars around the workplace even when you feel you are right.

Detach yourself from any rivalry-ridden situation and focus only on what you can control. Keep in mind that those who know your value will not contribute to damage your reputation or slander.

They will have your back without coercion. Invest in connecting with people of character within; they may even share clever ways of moving past the drama.

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