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Healthy versus harmful competition

Robert Half International

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In a Robert Half survey, nearly half of the more than 1,000 senior managers interviewed said they believe workers are more competitive with each other today than they were a decade ago. 

It's understandable, considering the job insecurity many workers have experienced in recent years. Internal rivalries are apt to arise when employees feel pressure to prove their worth. Competing with colleagues can be healthy and spur stronger individual performance. But it can also lead to problems if gamesmanship goes too far.

Following are some signs that the level of competition within your workplace has become more corrosive than beneficial:

  • You are overly protective of your ideas because you're scared they'll be stolen.
  • You've caught yourself resorting to unseemly tactics -- gossiping, hogging the spotlight, withholding information -- to gain an advantage over your colleagues.
  • Rather than being motivated by the accomplishments of others, you feel threatened by and resentful of their success.
  • You hesitate to take time off, because you worry a co-worker may temporarily step into your job and do it better.  
  • You don't ask for advice or a helping hand out of fear that you'll be perceived as inept.

If those examples sound familiar, here are four ways to maintain your competitive edge in a healthier fashion:

1. Strive for personal bests. It's good to take note of the habits of your office's star employees so you can imitate those behaviors. But it can be dangerous to measure your goals solely against the performance of others. As track and field participants often say, run your own race. Be self-motivated, and continually challenge yourself to improve.

2. Stop shielding your turf. Being passionate about your job and taking ownership of your projects are positive qualities, but there is such a thing as being too protective of your work. Don't be so territorial that you isolate yourself from fellow team members. Be generous and share your knowledge.

Likewise, be willing to ask for feedback and assistance. A co-worker with a fresh pair of eyes or different point of view might help you identify a solution you hadn't considered.

3. Find a mentor. Working one-on-one with a more experienced professional offers many benefits. A mentor can help you stretch your skills while also helping you understand the nuances of organizational politics. Hearing firsthand how others have dealt with difficult teammates or sensitive situations can be invaluable.    

4. Monitor your motives. It's all too easy for friendly competition to take a toxic turn. It's one thing if you and a co-worker push each other to raise your respective games. But if you're becoming more interested in outshining a colleague than helping your company or department reach its objectives, it's time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Rivalries help no one when they turn rancorous. Remember: You're all on the same team.

You can use competition to fuel your fire, but it's tricky. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off."

Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/bloopers or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.



Last Updated: 26/10/2012 - 1:49 PM


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