How Do You Survive Office Competition?

Jul 14, 2016, 01:12 AM

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Music How Do You Survive Office Competition? Hypercompetitors spark strong reactions in colleagues, from fighting back to shutting down; warriors vs. worriers Nothing can disrupt the ecology of the workplace like an hypercompetitive employee who's out to win at all costs. WSJ's Sue Shellenbarger joins Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero to discuss how employees become hypercompetitive and how other employees should deal with them.

By Sue Shellenbarger April 19, 2016 Every office has at least one—the hypercompetitive employee who’s out to win at all costs. These adversarial types go beyond striving for success. They turn every endeavor into a competition, whether it is intended to be or not, psychologists say. And they spark strong reactions in colleagues, from fighting back to just shutting down. Competition is often healthy and encouraged at work, of course. People who compete in a healthy way see it as a route to developing their skills, reaching shared goals, staying motivated and thriving on the job. Research on hypercompetitors sets them apart. Intense rivalry is linked with a win-at-any-cost mind-set and a tendency to ignore the perspectives and decisions of others, according to a 2010 study at Harvard University. Other research shows highly competitive people focus on attaining status over getting work done, and readily put their own interests above others’. Healthy or Hyper? How competitive are you? To find out, answer ‘true’ or ‘false’ to the following questions. • 1. Winning in competition makes me feel more powerful as a person. • 2. I do not see my opponents in competition as my enemies. • 3. I like competition because it teaches me a lot about myself. • 4. I can’t stand to lose an argument. • 5. Competition can lead to forming new friendships with others. • 6. Failure or loss in competition makes me feel less worthy as a person. • 7. It doesn’t bother me to be passed by someone while I am driving on the roads. • 8. Competition does not help me develop my abilities. • 9. Success in athletic competition does not make me feel superior to others. • 10. If I can disturb my opponent in some way to get the edge, I will do so. Scoring: Answering ‘true’ to questions 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10 reveals a tendency toward hypercompetitiveness. Those who answer ‘true’ only to 3, 5 and 8 tend to have a healthy attitude toward competition. How we react to competition varies widely. People may be conditioned by childhood experiences to see a hypercompetitive colleague as a challenge—and to respond by trying harder—or as a threat, triggering a retreat into fear and anxiety. It is rooted partly in genetics: Scientists have identified a “warrior” variant of a gene linked to performance under pressure, which confers an advantage in threatening situations, and a “worrier” variant linked to poor performance, according to a 2015 study by researchers at Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest. These tendencies shape early decision-making. College students who are competitive by nature tend to aim toward competitive jobs, such as coaching, according to a 2015 study led by John M. Houston, a psychology professor at Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla. Those who are less competitive train for more collaborative jobs, such as school counseling. People who become anxious and shy away from hypercompetitors in the workplace often hurt their own performance, says Shelley Reciniello, a New York psychologist and author of “The Conscious Leader.” After a rival confronted one executive with a harsh critique of her speaking skills, “she lost her footing. It started to...