Unless you’re talking sports, the word competition often has a negative ring to it, especially in the context of a workplace. It brings to mind catty co-workers, backstabbing colleagues, bosses holding you down and subordinates clawing their way up.
The most stressful and stomach ulcer-inducing scenario is likely to be when you find yourself in a competitive scenario with a team member of equal talent and knowledge—someone you may value and respect and perhaps even have a healthy relationship of trading professional advice with. How do you deal with the new, competitive situation, and what can you do to limit tension when one of you ends up receiving the much-desired promotion?
Limiting Workplace Tension
There is always some level of competition at work, even without the race for promotion. It you are overly sensitive to it, and find yourself feeling more threatened than inspired by excelling colleagues, you might have to start looking for ways to deal with your own approach. After all, fear and jealousy won’t necessarily bring out the best in you, neither in your work nor in your relationships, and the vague threat of being left behind by better suited colleagues might become a real issue.
One thing you can do to help combat the feeling of inadequacy is to get a mentor, especially one who will help you value your own success and limit the negative comparisons going on in your head.
There is also the notion of an abundance mindset versus a scarcity mindset, best described by Napoleon Hill who wrote the 1937 bestseller Think and Grow Rich. He contrasted the view of an abundance mindset, where a person thinks there is enough love, money, and success for everyone to have everything they want, to a scarcity mindset, where a person thinks there is a limit to the quantities, so that there is not enough for everyone to enjoy. All successful people, according to Hill, have an abundance mindset, and adapting that philosophy may help you focus on your own work rather than worrying about the prosperities of your colleagues.
Promoting a Balanced Mind
When that one promotion is opening up, it will directly benefit only one person. You may feel the stress the minute you realize your colleagues have also applied, and you will have to find a strategy to continue working together without tension, and to deal with it gracefully if the person promoted does not end up being you.
Don’t let the awkwardness build. Tension won’t help you get the promotion, especially if it comes from you. Don’t suddenly avoid your colleague, but try to address the matter. A friendly mention like, “I heard you’re applying for the new position. I put in my application as well, let’s keep our fingers crossed one of us gets it” will help create a positive tone and a sense of being in it together. Remember that there is such a thing as healthy competition. Getting inspired by talent in one’s field is a strong incentive to drive us forward to excel, and both of you are likely to come out of the process with a sense of achievement.
Naturally, you’ll want the position for yourself, but should your colleague end up the lucky one, you’ve now proved that you’re a trustworthy teammate even in challenging situations. Chances are you’ve now gained a supporter who will root for you as his or her replacement when moving up the ladder, or recommend you for similar positions.
Tension, on the other hand, will most likely have the opposite effect, and can even risk get you fired if your former colleague is now your new boss. This, of course, holds especially true if you’ve let the stress of the situation cloud your good judgement. Don’t play dirty! Trying to make yourself look good in front of your boss by discrediting your competitor will very likely have the opposite effect and end up costing you the promotion.
Your boss will not only deem you too immature, but also your working relationship with your colleague again will be very hard to revive. One thing to remember, and this is especially important: DON’T SULK. Nothing gives off a worse vibe and people will notice this type of immature response immediately.
It may be difficult to lose gracefully, and you may need some time to pick yourself up. However, make sure to congratulate the other person on his or her success, and to know there are no hard feelings. Keep any meltdowns outside the office, and treat yourself kindly. On the other hand, if you come out on top, it’s equally important not to flaunt your victory. It’s normal to be happy and thrilled, as you should when your hard work is rewarded, but don’t rub it in your competitors eyes. Play fair and your graciousness won’t go unnoticed.
Christine Sato founded the site CPA Review Courses – an online resource dedicated to helping professionals pass all four sections of the CPA Exam on their first try. Christine provides reviews of cpa prep courses and gives expert tips on her cpa blog to ease the process of becoming a CPA.