Competition in the Workplace, Can it be Friendly?

Can competition truly be friendly when our personal wealth and professional growth is at stake?


There is a highly competitive sport that doesn’t get much media coverage, Irish Step Dancing.

This is not your typical river dance, this is an elite group of athletes who fly like birds in front of a panel of judges about once or twice every month. I say fly like birds because of a signature move they call the birdie. It is no easy task! I personally describe the sport as a mixture of ballet and tap dance, high jump and pageantry mixed into one heap of mainly estrogen-driven competitors of all ages ranging from five to about eighteen. I am learning with my own nine-year-old daughter how similar her competitions are to my professional life in corporate America. 

One of the most obvious workplace competitions are interviews. They start with sitting in front of a “panel of judges” – future supervisors and colleagues, critiquing our “stage presence” – personality and cultural fit, as well as our “technique” skills to complete the job efficiently. Once we make it past the first round of the competition and get hired, we then have a new competition to concern ourselves with – the other “dancers” we work at our new job.

The big question I often ask myself is can competition truly be friendly when our personal wealth and professional growth is at stake?

Many of us find meaningful friendships in the workplace; we are with each other 40-plus hours every week. We lean on each other for critical tasks within the office, as well as personal life challenges. We are taught to be friendly, respectful and inclusive. I am trying to instill these values in my daughter, but it is becoming more difficult as she gets older and the competition grows stronger. I am finding more parallels to workplace scenarios, such as children pointing fingers when a mistake is made during a team performance. Sound familiar? I bet it does! 

The blame game seems to come naturally from a place of individual needs and emotions. It is common at work and in sports, as well as in childhood and adulthood. When working as a group or for a group, the personal need for success often outweighs team comradery.

It is uncomfortable for many to push that aside and understand they are a single puzzle piece working toward a common solution. The key here is learning to be empathetic to many different personality types and understanding other’s strengths and weaknesses. The puzzle needs to fit together for the results to create a cohesive concept. Communication is key, and that is where “the friendly” comes into the equation.

Humans are creatures with a complex set of emotions and interpersonal behaviors, which contribute to an array of successes, failures and consequences. I believe that the standard we need to hold is not the outcome of the competition, but the conduct and performance of the individual amidst other players. We will always be able to compete again, hold our self-worth high and continue to push forward, with both hard work and consistency, neither will let you down in the end! Keep it friendly and work together.

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