Competitiveness seems can be perceived as normal for anyone on the job. It can be perceived as a sign that someone is doing all that they can to do to do the best job. Other times it can create barriers to trust and leave your colleagues wondering if you are on the same team (or out for your own agenda). I think that this behavior can also be perceived differently when exhibited by men or by women. While the behavior can be perceived as natural when exhibited by men, women who are competitive usually get some additional (and unflattering) labels attached to them at the first sign of competitiveness. When competitiveness becomes associated with you as a negative identity label, it can be coming from a behavior that you exhibit or it can come from others who feel that they need to compete against you for some reason. Don’t be surprised if you find your colleagues competing against you. That’s life. I choose to think of it as a compliment. After all, why else would that person be competing with you? You must be good at something that you do for them to notice you and choose to be competitive with you.
Is there a problem here? Maybe not, but I would be doing a disservice not to mention something for you to think about. It might be worth taking a look whether or not this is a problem if you ...
know yourself to be a strong Type-A personality that goes all out and does whatever it takes to get the job done. One of the common traits found is successful leaders is a high level of self-awareness. So it won’t hurt you to take a look at how you operate and how you might be perceived by those around you.
What can you do? For starters, to deal with a current situation going on, compliment the person trying to compete with you (sincerely) on the things they do well, and just don’t go there in terms entering into a competition with them. Focus on doing the best that you can and your own goals, not being better than the next guy. It’s funny that this advice is one that came my mother, the last person to have any understanding of corporate life. But I have found this to be true: if you are doing the best to your abilities, you will probably far exceed those around you who may not even have the same capabilities and potential as you.
Now in terms of your own self-awareness, there are some that you can do to enhance how you work with others within your team, after all, being a star on a team that doesn’t work well with you will also have consequences in the long run. Try to step back and understand if you are exhibiting specific behaviors that have earned you a negative identity label from your co-workers or your own team (such as non-team player, self-importance, win-at-any-cost, win-lose mentality, hidden agenda, etc). If you are not sure, a resource easily within your reach can be your colleagues. While it may seem embarrassing or create anxiety to approach someone on such a subject, you have to understand two things: First, whether you ask or not, others may be holding a perception of you that may not be congruent with how you view yourself. So you might as well find out. Secondly, when you approach someone, give them your trust, and ask for help, it is my experience that most people are willing to help. Each person knows that it is uncomfortable to take a bold step to directly ask for feedback on one’s own self. Also, appealing to their expertise and knowing that you value their opinion also taps into that person’s desire to help you.
When you approach the person, let them know that you would like to improve this specific behavior that you believe is not serving you well in the workplace. Ask the person what they observe in this respect with the goal of continuing to develop yourself. You can ask them what they see in their interaction with you as well with your interaction with others on the team. If you receive feedback in the form of labels or descriptions about you as a person, ask them for specific things that you do or say in order to move to the behavioral level. We cannot change who we are, but where we can make a difference is in the behaviors we chose to exhibit.
The second and more critical step, as described by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, a world authority in helping successful leaders achieve positive lasting change in behavior, is collecting the “feedforward”. He suggests that one cannot change the past, that feedback is limited and static because it focuses on something that has already occurred, not on the infinite opportunities that can happen in the future, which is expansive and dynamic. He suggests that you ask colleagues for two suggestions for the future that will help you to achieve a positive change in the selected behavior. You can let them know that while you may not be able to adopt all of their suggestions, and that you will be getting back to them on what you will select to change.
After seeking the feedback and the “feedforward” from your colleagues, take some time for yourself to digest what you have learned. Know that you do have the choice and the ability to change. You would not have made it this far if you did not have this potential and capability. Then move forward. Select what suggested changes to your behavior you would like to implement and how you are going to go about it. As you progress, don’t forget to ask these colleagues periodically how you are doing on your journey. You might be amazed that by having this focus and clarity, changing fundamental behaviors may not be as difficult or take as long as you might think!