Competing with each other is an inherent part of human existence. The need to be definitively better than others – or at least peers – pushes us to work on ourselves, as individuals, as well as groups. And competing with others isn’t remotely unique to humans; animals literally compete for survival. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise, when competition – no matter at what scale – forms the basis of a variety of things we do at workplace.
However, problem arises when the all-consuming feeling of rivalry takes over the innocent and simple desire to outdo competition. When the focus shifts from the competition to the individual, and you create a nemesis, which you must trounce, the dreaded ‘R’ word has taken over. Unaddressed, rivalry between colleagues can result in undue stress, troubled team dynamics, bitterness, jealousy, or latent anger, all of which set the stage for a much more turbulent impending conflict. Look no further than the recent spat in Samajwadi Party in UP, which led to utter drama and chaos unfolding the in public domain, in multiple stages, to understand how lethal unchecked workplace rivalry can prove to be.
Rivalry between two colleagues can often be traced to insecurities between the two people, which might begin with a petty professional disagreement, but might quickly snowball into a rivalry of what your position is, how much responsibilities you hold, whose office is bigger, pay scale, and onwards to further ‘measurable’ characteristics of one’s career and life (again, read more about the SP battle).
Luckily for you, the tensions won’t escalate to such dangerous levels in your case, for we have some handy tips to help you deal with your workplace rival:
Understand the source of resentment
First off, introspect the reasons that led to such a situation. Did they outperform you at your job? Is it merely a difference of perspectives, and personalities, or are they actually working to undermine your work? Have you only heard others say that they were overly critical of you, or have you heard the criticism yourself? Delve deeper and reach the crux of the issue, before it became the over-arching, heavy and tense question it is today.
Refrain from taking pot-shots
It’s tempting to give a (well-rehearsed) sassy answer to a rival in front of others, but for your own sake – don’t. Not only does it push the resolution further away, but makes you vulnerable to being thrown under the bus as well. Most people don’t let a beating to their ego go by unnoticed, and get even at the first opportunity they get. The best policy is not to provoke.
Don’t ask others to pick a side
Never (ever) ask your teammates of colleagues to announce which side of the fence they are on. Not only are you putting them in a difficult position, by asking them to choose – you are sending feelers of starting a full-blown cold war, which, if nothing else, will get you in a tight spot with the leadership and higher management. What’s more, involving others to back you up actually shows how timid and under-confident you are – even if you think you are in the right.
Offer to resolve the tension
Take the high road, and directly offer to resolve the tension, for the sake of your peace of mind, and the team’s well being. Look at it this way; the situation is a win-win, for if the conflict is resolved, you will be appreciated for taking the first step. And in the other case, if your rival refuses your peace offering, and fails to make amends, you are still lauded for making an effort.
Work, Work, Work
If nothing else works, the best way to make a point is to be good at what you do. Although resolution, and sustainable solutions to conflict are the best option to diffuse workplace rivalries, but if you are bent on having the last word on the matter, work hard to prove your merit. This way, you are likely to win respect from your critics and rivals as well.
Rivalry is engrained in our DNA, as we are designed to compete for limited resources, and anyone who does tenuously better than us (better appraisal, better salary, better knowledge or skills, better idea) can be looked with potential envy and jealousy. You’d be surprised to know how people don’t work to their full potential, or actually change their jobs because of workplace rivalry. Sure, a healthy amount of competition is needed to shake things up and push the productivity and learning curve, but the second it ventures into a different category, an intervention is often needed. As an individual, your best shot at dealing with a rivalry, is rising above it and making a genuine effort to resolve it, without the assumption about who is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. You won’t be able to please every person you work with, and you are bound to rub a few of them the wrong way – even if you don’t intend to. Hence, don’t fret over it, but find ways to resolve the conflict with your rival.