18 Ways to Deal with Competition in the Workplace

Colleagues arm wrestling in office

A bit of healthy competition in the workplace never really harmed anyone, but when it turns into a full-blown war, you know you have a problem on your hands.

Workplace competition is on the rise, with managers encouraging coworkers to go head-to-head for the next promotion or end-of-month bonus. But with the office turning into a real-life version of The Hunger Games, it’s hard to focus on your actual work and duties when you’re fighting for survival.

So, how do you handle the annoying coworker that’s always trying to sabotage you and take credit for your work? These tips below will help you deal with the rivalry in a professional and somewhat graceful manner.

1. Assess the Situation

First things first, you need to assess the situation and make sure there aren’t any misunderstandings. The more you get to know your colleague, the more you’ll figure out about their personality and how they work. You can then detect if they are in fact the opposite.

2. Don’t Lose Focus

It’s easy to let a competitive coworker become the existence of your work life, deliberately making you lose focus on your actual work – and creating an easy win for them. So, learn to fight the temptation and stay focused on what you were employed to do.

3. Talk to Them

The mature way would be to call out your envious colleague by talking to them in a calm manner. After all, they may not even realise that they are being overly competitive and that it’s hurting team morale. Make sure you can provide a couple of examples of when their actions have been unethical – this may be all it takes to kick the competitiveness to the curb and start working in a more friendly and healthy environment.

4. Form Alliances

If a specific colleague is trying to throw everyone under the bus, it’s time you joined forces to take the troublemaker down. Let people know that you can be trusted and that you’re a team player. For example, if you see someone is inching closer to a deadline and still has a lot of work to do, offer them your help (as long as your own workload can be pushed to the side for another day, of course).

5. Be Competitive with Yourself

Use this unhealthy competition to better yourself and your skills, and generally shift the energy to focus on improving your strengths and weaknesses in the workplace. Los Angeles-based psychologist Dr Yvonne Thomas adds: ‘Competitive people get things done and have much self-discipline, perseverance and stamina, typically not giving up easily in the pursuit to be the best at whatever they are aiming for. Because competitive people are frequently very motivated and perform at a high level, they can often inspire others to function and perform to the best of their abilities as well’.

6. Talk to Your Boss

Having an open conversation with your manager may be the only resolution to this unhealthy environment. It’s important to tread carefully when approaching this situation, though, as you won’t want to look like you’re causing conflict in the office. A great way to start the conversation, according to Kema Christian-Taylor, is: ‘There’s someone in the office whose attitude is negatively affecting team morale and productivity. What do you think is the best way to handle this?’ Just make sure you have evidence to support your claims, otherwise it’s your word against theirs!

7. Don’t Bite Back

No matter how much the competitor tries to provoke you, it’s imperative that you bite the bullet and don’t answer back. Their behaviour may be the result of insecurities, and if that’s the case they probably feel threatened by your success and will exhaust all avenues to try and shed you in a bad light. Make sure you’re always civil and respectful to everyone in the workplace – even if you secretly dislike them!

8. Be Likeable

The hypercompetitive colleague you’re dealing with may simply be intimidated by you and may think you’ll try to sabotage their successes and will often automatically mark you as the enemy before they even get to know you. To combat this, do your best to show them that that just isn’t you and be genuinely friendly with them.

9. Compliment Them

Flattery may be the way to win over your rival and get them to see that you’re not a threat. As I explained earlier, many people are often competitive as they are insecure, and if you help boost their ego, they’ll most likely drop the act and be friendlier towards you.

10. Keep Your Distance

By staying out of their way, you’ll be much happier in the workplace. Try to avoid them as much as possible and don’t engage in any conversation with them to ensure you remain as calm as possible.

11. Correspond in Writing

Following on from the previous point, if you do have to engage in any work-related conversation with them, make sure it’s all through writing, whether it’s via email or on your company’s chat system. Be sure to keep copies of your communication in case it’s needed in the future. It’s always best to keep a mutual party CCed to ensure you’re receiving all the information that you need to proceed with your task.

12. Ask to Move Teams

If you really can’t see eye-to-eye with your competitive colleague, consider moving teams or department if possible. There’s no guarantee that the grass will be greener on the other side, but if you’re that unhappy, you might as well try.

13. Speak Up in Meetings

If you notice that a certain colleague is stealing your ideas and suggesting them in team meetings, speak up about it! You could say something like: “Thank you for sharing the idea that I mentioned earlier, Jane… I think it will be…” and then continue to elaborate on your thought process behind it.

14. Stay in the Loop

If there’s any gossip circulating the office about you, you’ll want to know about it. So, although I usually advise against getting involved in office politics, in this case, you’ll need to keep one ear open to know if your competitor is spreading any unfounded and hurtful rumours about you.

15. Know Your Rights

If your colleague is using deceptive and unfair methods to compete against you (for example, they are abusing the system and taking your good leads just to be at ‘the top of the game’ and win the end-of-month bonus), file a complaint and report what’s going on to your HR department who will be able to investigate the matter further.

16. Try Working with Them

As the saying goes: ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. In this instance, you can try working with your colleague and asking for their advice while you’re at it. It might help them see that you’re not a rival and that there’s no need for animosity.

17. Act with Integrity

Regardless of how your competitive colleagues choose to act, avoid engaging in any petty competition and to always use morally good means in all your endeavours. In fact, a study by Bentley University found that 84% of business leaders (including corporate recruiters) believe integrity to be the most important quality in an employee. In other words, be the star employee that you are, and let your jealous coworker continue digging themselves a bigger hole.

18. Find Another Job

If you have exhausted all your options and you’re still feeling the effects of a toxic work environment, it might be time for you to look elsewhere for another job. You need to think about your own happiness, at the end of the day, and if you really can’t resolve your differences with your annoying colleague, then you’ll need to find an escape route.

Overall, the best way to deal with a competitive coworker is to avoid sinking to their level. Stay true to yourself and make sure you focus on your work and career goals.

Have you ever had to deal with a competitive coworker before? If so, join in on the conversation below and share your stories with us.