How to Manage Rivalry in the Workplace
Avoiding the Negative Effects of Rivalry
Rivalries can push people to perform at the highest level. They can also encourage them to engage in shocking – and even illegal – behavior.
In 1994, American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was poised to claim the national championship. But, after a practice session, an attacker tried to break her leg, and she was forced to withdraw from the event.
Later, it came to light that Kerrigan's main rival, Tonya Harding, had conspired to injure her opponent to give herself a better chance in the competition. Fortunately, Kerrigan's injury healed and she went on to win the silver medal in the Olympics that year. (Meanwhile, Harding finished eighth, eventually pleaded guilty to criminal charges, and was disgraced by the scandal.)
While it is rare that workplace rivalries end in physical injuries and arrests, they can become a distraction, harm morale, and diminish productivity. In this article, we'll explore rivalry in the workplace, and we'll look at how you can limit unhealthy competition and improve collaboration in your own team.
Rivalry in the Workplace
Gavin Kilduff, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, defines rivalry as a form of competition with another person, rather than a focus on attaining a goal or prize.
According to Kilduff, the more similar people are, the more likely they are to become rivals. For example, rivalry can often occur between colleagues with comparable jobs, equivalent titles, or similar skills.
Rivalry between work colleagues can take many forms. For instance, team members may decline to discuss work with one another because they are afraid that someone might steal their ideas. They might take on extra projects, or take the credit for work that isn't their own, to try to impress their bosses. Or, more insidiously, they may try to make other people look bad, by pointing out their faults, or by spreading malicious gossip....