How to Deal With Overly Competitive Colleagues

The majority of people want a workplace that is friendly, productive, and enjoyable. However, sometimes workers who have an overly competitive attitude can make this difficult to achieve. If you suspect you’re on the receiving end of regular negative treatment dished out by an over-competitive co-worker, by assessing your workplace, learning to cope, and taking steps to protect yourself you can successfully deal with overly competitive colleagues.


EditAssessing Your Workplace

  1. Take a look at your work environment. Some workplaces are naturally more competitive than others. For instance, if you’re in sales and marketing, you’ll be surrounded by people who are competitive by design. On the other hand, if you’re in an environment where competitiveness isn’t part of the job description, its presence can seem foreign and unpleasant.[1]
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  2. Weigh the benefits. Competitiveness has both advantages and disadvantages; painting it in a purely negative light does it a disservice. By only concentrating on the downside of competitiveness, you risk losing sight of the potential benefits. Competitiveness can result in innovation, successful sales and outcomes, and motivation.[2]
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  3. Look for balance. Be aware that most organizations are a combination of cooperation and competitiveness. Problems really only arise in workplaces where extreme competition is not adequately dealt with.[3] If your organization is all competition and no collaboration, you’re probably sitting in a hotbed of negative competitiveness.
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  4. Set an example. Sometimes the best policy is to be the change you want to see in your workplace. Yes, this is a hard task, but it is not any harder than fuming silently around the water cooler. Try to set an example for those around you.[4]
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    • Use inclusive language. Say “We” rather than “I.”
    • Avoid responding to competitive outbreaks at work with arrogance or jealousy;
    • As best you can, show competitive people some compassion.
  5. Avoid buying into the competitive dogma. Accept that you’re exceptional and wonderful just as you are. You don’t need external validation to prove this, nor do you need more things to show that you’re better than anyone else. Ask your co-workers exactly what it is they’re wanting more of, and how they feel this is improving their personal lives.[5]
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EditCoping with Your Work Environment

  1. Maintain a polite and civil manner. As tempting as it can be to react in the heat of the moment, try your best to be friendly and civil. Reacting harshly (even when this reaction is justified) can often backfire, encouraging the offender to react to you in worse ways than before. On the other hand, if you remain calm (and don’t give them the emotional reaction they’re seeking). they may stop trying to get a rise out of you.[6]
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    • Also, sometimes when an over-competitive co-worker notices that you don’t intend them harm, they’ll feel more motivated to treat you nicely in return.
    • Friendly casual conversation, especially around non-completive or non-work subjects, can help.
  2. Try working with (rather than against) competitive colleagues. If your colleague is openly competitive, think of the ways that you can harness that. For example, it can often be a useful tactic to ask them for their advice and ideas about things they talk about or do, rather than assuming they’re going to run away with all the glory. This flatters them, as well as giving you an opportunity to learn from them. Openly competitive colleague types include:[7]
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    • The superstar – this competitive co-worker always needs to shine and will go above and beyond the call of duty to do so.
    • The weightlifter – this competitive co-worker shoulders responsibility by taking on extra workloads.
    • The speeder – this competitive co-worker wants it done yesterday. This can be beneficial in terms of morale and motivation.
  3. Talk to your colleagues. Discuss their feelings concerning team morale and management support. Try to gauge their general feelings and understandings. Be careful not to name call or theorize without actual facts. Later, if you feel there is enough concern, you could consider raising the particular issue of competitiveness for a general discussion.[8]
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  4. Speak directly to your boss. Find out what his or her strategy is with respect to teamwork and shared outcomes in the workplace. Consider pointing out to your boss that a team encouraged to do well as a whole benefits the organization, especially where those who are not performing as well are given help and advice from those who are performing well.[9]
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    • You could also talk to higher level management or human resources if you’re concerned that your workplace environment is too divisive.

EditProtecting Yourself From Competitive Colleagues

  1. Spot the sneaky saboteur. These people are harder to work with than the openly competitive colleague because they like to undermine through devious means. You can spot a sneaky competitive colleague by the things they conveniently leave out.[10] This includes things like:
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    • Not letting the boss know you helped with a project
    • “Forgetting” to send emails to you that concern you
    • Standing up in front of the weekly work meeting and proclaiming they were solely responsible for some good outcome in which you played a major part.
  2. Keep backup copies of everything you do. A sneaky person is unlikely to change his or her ways, so you’ll need to manage around them. Start by keeping backup copies of everything you do, especially anything involving this person or their responsibilities. In the event the co-worker tries to place blame on you, or show you up in a negative light for anything, you’ll be covered.[11]
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  3. Keep your boss apprised of the work you’ve done. Regardless of what is said openly elsewhere in the workplace, go ahead and let your boss know about your contributions privately. Make sure your performance is verifiable and unimpeachable, and use the paper trail you’ve been creating to back this up.[12]
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  4. Cull their snooping. If you suspect a co-worker is physically prying into your business, put a stop to it. Use secure PC passwords to protect any electronic files you use at work and keep your desk and filing cabinet contents locked with a key. Avoid sharing personal information about yourself with such a co-worker. Keep all conversations professional and distant.[13]
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  5. Call them out. You may need to approach the sneaky competitor colleague directly, and call him or her on their tactics. This lets them know you’re no pushover. If you find this approach too difficult, find other colleagues willing to approach the person with you, and/or talk to your boss about the impact this person’s behavior is having on you.[14]
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  6. Minimize contact. If possible, try to minimize your contact with this person. This doesn’t have to mean avoiding your competitive co-workers altogether, but if hostile, negative, or undermining behavior is ongoing, stick to communicating with them only when you have to.[15]
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  • Incorporate assertive behavior techniques into your communications.
  • Try to empathize with the person. He or she wouldn’t be doing this in the first place if in some way they weren’t feeling deeply insecure or threatened. Try to appreciate how this feels to them.
  • If the situation still gets worse after attempting non-confrontational methods, it may be worth either directly confronting the co-worker about their behavior or reporting it.


  • Avoid presenting complaints to a competitive worker. They’ll mark you down immediately as a weaker person. The clever way around this is to always ask for advice directed at the matter concerning you.
  • Workplace harassment and bullying is unacceptable. If you are experiencing either of these problems, report it and seek support.

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