On the Job

Compete with caution at work

Just after the 2016 Olympics and at the start of football season in the U.S., competition is definitely in the air.

Each year, thousands are mesmerized by sport. We love to see the underdog emerge victorious. We’re amazed at the alien-like skills of people like Simone Biles, who put in hard work to be the best. Competition pushes people to excellence, and it’s captivating.

But at work, competition can be tricky. According to research, about 50 percent of employees benefit from it, while the other half are either indifferent or feel crushed by competitive co-workers.

So how do you take advantage of the benefits without causing problems? Here are a few tips, keeping with the spirit of this sportsy season. And don’t worry; even if you hate sports, they still work.

1. Think of work as a team sport

One of the best ways to reap the benefits of competition is for your team to unite around a common goal. As in team sports, each employee has his or her own responsibilities but always with the broader picture in mind. If one teammate is doing well, great; the whole team is doing well. If one person is struggling, the whole team suffers and should be concerned about how to help that person, move that project along, etc.  Those in leadership or management roles will need to consistently connect work back to the overall mission or goal to make this work, but the collaboration and positive energy will be well worth it.

2. Keep the “showboating” to a minimum

In short, don’t be THAT guy or gal.

You may be the most talented, fantastic and hard-working person you know, but maybe let other people tell you that. To be clear, I’m not suggesting you should belittle your skills. It’s important and a real benefit to your employer to be confident and know your strengths.

“Focusing on your strengths can make you a much more effective employee,” Karen Bradbury, assistant vice president in Talent Strategies at Unum, said. “Self-awareness – of both abilities and areas for improvement – helps keep employees balanced and focused, and is helpful in a team setting.”

No doubt, knowing what you’re good at is important. Just try to think of ways to account for your productivity and contributions without minimizing the work of others or making it all about you. Be clear about your role, but also be quick to acknowledge the support you’ve had along the way whenever you experience success. No one ever scores the winning goal, run or point by him or herself. As famed and legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.

3. Show sportsmanship

When it comes to competition, even the most gruesome, gut-wrenching games among rivals often end with the players shaking hands and showing respect for one another. Whether you’re the competitive type or the one being annoyed by them, stay respectful of others and ask yourself, “Is the way I’m acting ethical, appropriate and polite?” If the answer is “yes” to all three, you’ll be fine.

Competition is a huge motivator for a lot of people, it’s true. But at work, just be sure to keep these three tips in mind to keep from alienating co-workers or fostering a culture of fear.

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