How to Tolerate and Outflank an Overly Competitive Coworker

By March 26, 2020 June 6th, 2023 Common Business Problems

Last Updated on June 6, 2023 by Dave Schoenbeck

Workplace competition can be healthy, but when your company culture supports a winner-takes-all environment, it’s a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, many companies don’t realize that pitting employees against each other might lead to improved performance in the short run but can lead to resentment, burnout, and high turnover in the long run.

Two overly competitive woman coworkers arm wrestle at the office.

Whether your company’s culture is like this or not, chances are, at some point, you’ll encounter a coworker who’s too competitive for their good. They’re willing to throw you under the bus so they can succeed. In the face of this bad behavior, holding your own is essential. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with an overly competitive coworker.

Signs of a Competitive Coworker

A competitive coworker is easy to spot because they’ll drive you up the wall. This type of coworker gossips a lot keeps important information to themselves, leaves you out of meetings or emails, oversteps boundaries, and sometimes even takes credit for your work or ideas. 

If you have a coworker who leaves you on the defensive every time you talk, it might be time to examine whether they’re intentionally undermining you. Fortunately, there are a few practical ways to manage a competitive coworker. 

How to Deal with a Jealous Coworker

  • Manage your reputation. You can’t control other people, but you can maintain the way you act and the quality of your work. For example, if you have a history of kindness and reliability, your coworkers are likelier to take your side when a competitive teammate causes trouble. 
  • Don’t assume malice. If you dislike a coworker, everything they do can get on your nerves. Even if they mean you harm, try to keep an open mind and assume their intentions are good. At the very least, it will make interacting with them more manageable, but it could also help you avoid an embarrassing confrontation if you misread the situation. 
  • Don’t sink to their level. This hearkens to the point about reputation, but once you start using shady, underhanded tactics to get ahead, you no longer have any ground to stand on. It doesn’t feel good when the brown-noser gets ahead, but any wins they might have won’t last when everyone gets clarity about the kind of person they are. 
  • Don’t take the bait. A coworker who’s out to get you will likely try to provoke you into losing your cool. Please don’t fall for it. Remain impeccably professional at all times, especially in written communication. If you feel yourself getting heated, step away before responding. That’s what leaders do
  • Please don’t compare yourself to them. This coworker might be competing with you, but you have professional goals to focus on. So please don’t consider them your rival; you’re better than that. If your manager ever makes a comparison, gently steer the conversation back to your contributions instead. 
  • Find common ground. Dealing with competitive coworkers will be easier if you see them as people. Try to figure out some things you have in common. At the very least, it will give you something to make small talk about. 
  • Leave a paper trail. Sometimes a competitive coworker will smear your reputation by making you look incompetent. Be sure to record any emails you exchange with this person so they can’t claim you didn’t give them the information they needed. 
  • Develop clear communication with your boss. Your manager’s opinion of you is the one that counts most. Regularly communicating with your manager about your work and progress will make it harder for a coworker to sabotage you. 
  • Clue your manager in. If you constantly have problems with a coworker, loop your manager in. Many people want to avoid the appearance of “tattling,” but it’s your manager’s responsibility to know what’s going on with the team. Be direct and ask for guidance. It’s their job to take action if a team member is toxic.

More people will notice an overly competitive coworker than you might think. Unfortunately, the path of professional jealousy is a self-destructive one. However, as long as you keep your head high and do work you’re proud of, you’ll find that you can easily outlast the competition. 

An overly competitive coworker might cramp your style, but with the right tools, you shall overcome. So please fill out my contact form, and let’s book a meeting to discuss your biggest competitive challenge at work.

Coach Dave


Dave Schoenbeck
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