competition

Resolving Conflict with a Competitive Coworker

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I have a coworker who seems to think of me as a competitor, not a fellow team member. I don’t know if I should tell my manager, but it is getting worse, and I am considering quitting. What’s your advice?

A: I sympathize with you—this probably means you aren’t enjoying your job as much as you’d like, and this conflict is most likely affecting your productivity. While it may seem that going to your manager is the right first step, I would start with a frank discussion with your coworker.

If you haven’t already done so, I suggest going to lunch together to escape the work environment. Let your colleague know that you’d like to clear the air and that your goal is to work together as productively as possible. Here’s the tricky part: Ask if there is something you’ve done to make her think you two are competing rather than working together.

I hope your manager will sit down with you and your coworker to get the issues out in the open or ask HR to facilitate an open discussion that will lead to a resolution that works for everyone.

What you want is to have a constructive discussion so that you can both move forward. The key here is having some examples of times when you’ve felt that she saw you as competition, but keep this conversation as nonthreatening and work-related as possible. Lay out the facts, and don’t accuse her of anything. Ask good questions and listen carefully to ensure you understand her point of view. A great technique is to paraphrase her responses. For example, say, “What I heard you say is…” and then repeat what you heard.

If her competitive behavior continues, then bring your manager into the picture. However, before you take this step, consider the nature of your coworker’s relationship with your manager: Have they worked together for years, or do they have a social relationship outside the office? You want to be as politically astute as possible so you don’t end up being the bad guy. If you believe the relationship is too close for the manager to be objective, seek help from your HR department.

I hope your manager will sit down with you and your coworker to get the issues out in the open or ask HR to facilitate an open discussion that will lead to a resolution that works for everyone. If this doesn’t happen, you may want to request a transfer or, as a last resort, resign.

These situations are painful, but they are also opportunities to learn and continue to improve your conflict-resolution skills.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].


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