A little competition in the workplace never hurts, as it’s often the main driving force behind a business going forward. Employees also feel motivated to excel when they follow top achievers in teams by example.
But what happens when you’re working side by side with an overly competitive colleague, who sees you as an enemy rather than a fellow team member? Their unhealthy competitive behavior is probably crushing your spirits and making you feel stressed out.
In order to learn how to deal with the situation gracefully, it’s vital to spot the signs that your coworker is competing with you, early enough, especially if you’re unsure about what makes them behave this way toward you.
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Reasons why your colleague is competitive
Your colleague is going out of their way to make your life hard at work. There’s a cut-throat ambiance when around them. You’re left bewildered or on your toes after every interaction with them. But why?
The most common reasons why your coworker is overly competitive:
- They’re innately insecure – their low self-esteem and insecurity make them act competitively and ruthlessly at the workplace.
- They feel threatened by you – your achievements make them look like an underperforming member of the team.
- They’re inspired by your failure – their hope to outshine you and look better than you is rooted in every mistake you make.
- They’re bitter and jealous of you – your integrity and commitment at work bug them to the core.
- Promotion is their sole motivation – they are after that one available leading position, you’ve been also considered for by your boss.
Keep in mind that the ways they exhibit their discontent, troubled inner experiences, and anxiety about themselves can come in many forms, while acting competitively.
What are the signs a coworker is competing with you?
It’s not always easy to recognize when a coworker is being excessively competitive, as sometimes they are too subtle in playing their little games.
So, it’s a good idea to know how to identify such behavior so that you’re able to continue to work productively with your competing colleagues.
Let’s take a look at some common signs and some not-so-obvious ones that a coworker is competing with you.
1. Working overtime on a regular basis
If your coworker has suddenly started to work extra hours voluntarily and on a regular basis, then they could be trying to make you look less committed to the job. This suggests that they are most likely competing with you.
2. Advising you constantly on how to do your job
Your colleague is definitely competing with you if they are acting like your supervisor when they are not, especially if they micromanage you.
Naturally, senior team members are expected to help and guide new employees. But if that’s not the case with you, then your coworker is clearly overstepping their powers.
3. Enquiring about the progress of your assignments
Similarly to the above, if your coworker is constantly asking you questions about your assignments and their specific deadlines, this may mean that they are trying to outperform you.
Most likely, they hope that you fail to complete your projects in time.
4. Spotting errors regularly in your work
Finding mistakes in your work and pointing them out to you, so everyone else in the office can hear, is a sure sign that this well-concerned colleague of yours is competing with you. Moreover, they might actually feel threatened by you.
5. Taking credit for your ideas
A mean thing to do, of course, but an overly competitive coworker can be unscrupulous enough to steal your ideas and pass them as their own. Their moral compass is lacking to the extent that they fear not the consequences of such behavior.
6. Interrupting you all the time during meetings
It’s OK to be excited and talkative during a brainstorming session, in a way that one overtakes the conversation. But if your colleague is actually deliberately interrupting you and other team members, then we could safely conclude that they’re overly competitive in an unhealthy fashion.
7. Asking about the type of tasks you do
Your colleague could be competing with you if they are sticking their nose into what you do, constantly and with an unreasonable degree of curiosity. “Maybe, she is paid the same for much easier work than I do!”, is probably what’s playing on their mind.
8. Embarrassing you in front of other team members
If a coworker is always managing to make you feel embarrassed for one reason or another, then they are probably competing with you. Nothing makes them more satisfied than if you look weak or incompetent in front of your team.
9. Criticizing you all the time when there’s no valid reason
“No, you should have sent the design to me days ago!” or “This is in no way up to standard in my opinion!” Sounds familiar? And you’ve actually done nothing wrong? Then, these words are coming from a passive-aggressive coworker, who is competing with you, that’s for sure.
10. Withholding work-related information from you
Does a fellow team member always relay important information to you at the last minute? And this way, they prevent you from finishing a task by the due date. This is a classic way to sabotage somebody if you’re competing with them at work.
11. Deliberately hindering your work
Another similar sign that your coworker competes with you is when they consciously sabotage the successful completion of mutual assignments by not doing their part of the job soon enough so that you can submit the project on time.
12. Comparing themselves to you at every opportunity
Insecure employees often compare their skills and experience out loud to those of their coworkers. If someone on your team is constantly voicing how they’re doing in comparison to you, then they are definitely in fierce competition with you.
13. Taking time to reply to your emails
Be it out of pure malice or just to peeve you, your colleague never replies to your emails in due time, even when it’s important to do so. Well, they could be suffering from a superiority complex. Or leaving you hanging in the dark – another strategy to stall and withhold information.
14. Giving you stone-cold looks and never smiling at you
We can’t be liked by everyone at work. But colleagues have to still be polite and courteous to each other to get along and get work done. So, if your coworker goes out of their way to remain cold and unfriendly in your presence, it’s a statement. A statement that you’re a rival to them, not a fellow team member.
15. Backstabbing you for no apparent reason
Just found out that someone at work, you considered a new friend, has been criticizing you behind your back or downright throwing you under the bus? Then, there’s every chance that your coworker is secretly in competition with you while pretending to be your buddy.
16. Spreading false information about you
One has to have a lot of nerve to spread fake rumors about colleagues, especially in a close-knit work environment. Sooner or later, the truth will prevail, right? But hey, a ruthless and overly competitive coworker has no stopping.
17. Badmouthing you to your manager
A colleague who’s competing with you can go a step further and directly speak ill of you to your manager. This is one of the worst examples of a dog-eat-dog company culture, where little has been done to prevent such degrading type of conduct before it occurs.
18. Overly friendly with you but your guts say it’s all a facade
“Keep your enemies closer!” can be the case, here, if your intuition says that your coworker’s overly friendly behavior is not what it seems. They may be in effect competing with you while watching your every move.
19. Constantly boasting about their own achievements
If your colleague is excessively bragging about how great they are in their job, when around you, then this could mean two things. They are either just full of themselves or they are competing with you and want to demoralize you.
20. Suggesting that whatever you do will probably not work out
Worse, if your coworker is actually doubting the successful outcome of everything you do, out loud that is, then they are in competition with you. Their objective is to downplay your level of expertise and bring you down by gradually undermining your self-esteem.
21. Playing the victim in your presence
The most subtle sign your coworker is competing with you and trying to get the upper hand is if they constantly play the victim, blaming you for their failures or lack of progress.
They never own up to their mistakes and nothing is ever their fault when it comes to teamwork effort that has rendered less than the desired results.
How to deal with a coworker who is competing with you
Feeling as if you’re being dragged into an unwanted rivalry at work can take its toll on you unless you do something about it. Of course, it will all depend on how bad the situation is.
Tolerable tension between you and your overly competitive coworker calls for wising up and remaining positive.
Here are a few tips that may give you an idea of how to work with a competitive coworker.
1. Don’t get pulled into their game
Stay in control and don’t let your competitive colleague’s behavior get to you. Concentrate on doing your best at work, instead of feeling negative, or worse, conniving up plans to take revenge on them.
Your achievements at work will speak for themselves. So, no matter what your rival does to sabotage you, you’ll outshine them purely by sticking to your integrity.
2. Focus on your relationship with other colleagues
Why allow being knocked down by that one excessively competitive coworker when you can form a lasting relationship with the rest of the employees on your team that is based on trust and cooperation?
So do your best to Ignore the ruthless colleague and resort to the help and advice of colleagues, who are worthwhile collaborating with.
3. Take the experience as a learning curve
Workplaces are versatile environments that offer both bad and good experiences. Take the rivalry with your competing coworker into your stride and try to learn from their conduct. Use their behavior as motivation to better yourself in what you do.
4. Approach your competing coworker directly
If things get out of hand and your overly competitive colleague manages to hinder every aspect of your work, then confront them directly to find out why they act this way.
Maybe it’s all they know because they’ve only worked in places with a cut-throat company culture where one had to constantly prove themselves.
5. Seek advice from your superiors
As a last resort, speak to your manager and share with them your troubles at work. Be diplomatic and stress how you feel, in terms of the way your coworker’s actions affect your productivity and performance.
Try not to badmouth this particular fellow team member, as you may inadvertently be regarded as someone who is no better than them.
My experience working with competitive coworkers
I have to admit I was quite competitive earlier in my career. I didn’t resort to any sabotaging practices against my fellow coworkers but I was surely trying to outwork them in order to stand out.
The funny thing is that it totally worked. Soon after starting work in an international tech company more than ten years ago, I was promoted to a middle management position – one that I hold to this day.
One of the harsh realities of operating within a corporate environment is that hard work is noticed and pays off no matter how it is fueled.
By being competitive myself, it has always been easy for me to spot other individuals who are quite competitive as well. This has made it easier for me to protect myself and my work from those who have wished to sabotage me or my subordinates.
I have confronted overly-competitive coworkers many times on the spot by calling them out. I would usually say something like “It’s not a race, guys” or “well, we are all in this together so let’s not sabotage each other” to show them that their behavior is not passing under the radar.
Frequently asked questions about dealing with a competing coworker
How can I maintain a healthy working relationship with a competitive colleague?
To maintain a healthy working relationship with a competitive colleague, try focusing on open communication, setting clear boundaries, and finding common ground. By establishing a mutual understanding and respect, you can work together more effectively and minimize potential conflicts.
Can I collaborate with a competitive colleague without getting caught in their rivalry?
Absolutely! Collaborating with a competitive colleague can be a rewarding experience when approached positively. Focus on the shared goals of your project and maintain open communication to ensure everyone is on the same page. By working together, you can leverage each other’s strengths and achieve success as a team.
How do I address a coworker who tries to make me look bad in front of others?
It can be frustrating when a coworker attempts to undermine you, but it’s important to remain calm and professional. Address the situation privately with your coworker, expressing your concerns and seeking a resolution. If the behavior persists, consider discussing the issue with your supervisor or HR representative for additional guidance.
Should I involve my supervisor or HR in resolving issues with a competing coworker?
Before involving your supervisor or a Human Resources rep, try addressing the issue directly with your coworker through open communication and problem-solving. If the situation doesn’t improve or escalates, it may be necessary to seek the assistance of a supervisor or HR representative to help resolve the conflict and ensure a healthy work environment.