Excessive Competition At Work


How do we deal with passive aggressive coworkers (Very competitive. Friendly but with the intention of out-performing someone and being generally sneaky)?

I come from an organisation which has such colleagues and bosses who are very performance oriented. I am a hard worker and I believe I am motivated to do well myself. But my bosses are petty and expect me to report about my wherabouts all the time.

Also they are very performance oriented. I am all for rewarding those who perform well, but there must be some recognition for team work, being nice and helpful. It seems as if this work culture encourages unhealthy competition and back biting in employees.

I’m a new mother of a 9 month old (recently returned from a 4 month maternity leave) and am feeling awfully muddled.


Not A Competitor


Dear Not A Competitor:

I can imagine it is frustrating to feel that you are working in a place where people are tattling on each other. However, I would remiss in responding to you if I didn’t mention another viewpoint as part of suggesting some ways that might improve the situation.

1. You refer to competitive coworkers as being passive-aggressive, but that does not fit the behavior you describe at all. So, one of the first things we always suggest is that people avoid applying labels like that.

What you have sounds like a basic situation of people being highly competitive, which is a common work situation. Certainly it can be excessive, and it appears that it might be in your situation, at least from your perspective.

2. You also mentioned that your bosses focus on performance not on being good team members who are pleasant to work with. I also can understand your view about that.

Effective work consists of both high performance and good behavior. It’s out of whack if your coworkers are performing well but being mean, rude or creating problems for others. But it would also be out of whack if employees were pleasant, fun and cooperative but their performance was low or only mid-range.

It’s possible to be both, and that’s what we should strive for. I’m sure you do, since your tone indicates that. But, I also think you might be content to be less than high in your work output or work quality and that is likely not what your managers consider good enough.

You don’t mention what kind of work you do where someone could have the intention of out-performing someone else and make it happen. But, isn’t that what every business book and motivational lecture would suggest? To be your best and be at the top of sales, work output and other measurements of performance?

I would agree that no one should purposely sabotage the work of others. I also don’t like backstabbing and gossip that is destructive. But, if they are not lying, cheating, forging or defrauding, an employee who is constantly striving to beat the record is usually a highly valued commodity.

A final thing you mention is that your bosses want you to report your whereabouts all the time. You imply they don’t do that to others. Consider asking them what it is about your work that has made them more concerned about your whereabouts than that of others. Talk to them about your feelings about the competitive environment.

Consider a conversation similar to the one I suggest for employees who write with the opposite concern you have. We hear from many people who feel their performance is not valued as much as it should be, while people who are simply pleasant get more accolades: Ask the four key questions.. *What am I doing that you want me to continue doing exactly the same way? *What would you like me to increase? *What would you like me to do less of? *What do you think I should stop doing completely?

Since you’ve recently come back from maternity leave, this would be a good time to have a refresher talk with your manager. Talk to him about your feelings over all of this. Mention the concern you have that there is so much competition people are trying to knock down others. Ask him for honest input about it all.

Consider also suggesting weekly or monthly meetings with employees where they can share ideas and become more of a team than individual competitors. It may be that the pressures of being a new mother are so demanding that work is more fatiguing and less fulfilling than before. However, you probably need it now more than ever, and you may need to simply accept that you are working in a highly competitive environment that you sometimes feel is overly competitive.

You should ask for assistance if you feel that competitiveness has led to unethical or blatantly unpleasant action. But, it could be that is just an environment in which you will need to learn to function, while not getting caught up in it.

Do your work to a high level without measuring where you stand with someone else. Be pleasant while still working to excel. The issue of high performance and cooperative team work isn’t either/or. It’s possible to have both. That should be everyone’s goal.

I realize I’m not there to have to deal with it, so it’s easy for me to say YOU should learn to deal with it. That’s why I suggest that you talk to your boss. You should also maintain a civil relationship with coworkers. Don’t compete excessively just because they do. Compete against yourself and work to do better all the time. That way you can combine your desire to be a good team member with the valuable trait of being highly productive.

Best wishes and congratulations on being a new mother. Work hard then go home and leave work at work while you enjoy your child, so both can add a rich dimension to your life.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.