How to deal effectively with workplace rivalries

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Rivalry is the competition between two people or among a group of people working towards a similar goal. Rivalry exists everywhere people are congregated to work towards any goal.  Rivalry happens as a result of individuals or teams trying to upend each other. Organizations need healthy rivalry to bring out the best in each employee, however inordinate rivalry may lead to an unhealthy situation that may rather destroy the cohesion of a company’s environment.

The need of the individual to be better than others push us to work on themselves to better areas in themselves they believe others are better than them. Competition or rivalry is innate to human beings so it must not be seen as a negative phenomenon but must be harnessed to the benefit of the individuals, teams, and the organization.

Employee rivalries become a problem when the simple desire to outdo the competition adversely affects relationships and affects team or office cohesion. Unbridled rivalry or competition among employees can result in stress, troubled team dynamics, bitterness, jealousy, or latent anger, burnout among others all of which set the stage for a much more turbulent conflict. Unchecked workplace rivalry can be lethal to the health of a firm.


Causes Rivalry in the workplace

Workplace rivalries can be the result of differing values, opposing interests, personality conflicts, poor communications, or personal insecurities.

What the individuals involved must do

As an individual, you are better off rising above petty jealousies or rivalry but when they do arise take genuine steps to resolve them, make no assumptions, seek a genuine resolution without making the rival look bad. It is impossible to please every person you work with, but quickly resolve conflicts when they arise. 

  1. Understand the source of your rivalry

It is important for individuals involved in the competition to understand that their rivalries can cause discomfort in the office and be a drag on performance.

As an individual feeling jealous, look for the reasons that may have led to such a situation. Is it about job performance, differences in perspectives, or personality traits, or is your rival trying to undermine your work? Have you also been overly critical of your colleagues’ performance, or have you by your posture communicated something that makes your colleagues feel bad or call their knowledge or competencies into question? Delve deeper and reach the crux of the issue, before it degenerates into an open full-blown cold war.

  1. Never rush to recruit colleagues

It is easy to try to form alliances during competitions. It is a bad idea to try to rope in friends to side with you. Never ask your friends, teammates, or colleagues to announce to take sides. In doing so you are not only pitting them against their colleagues but you are communicating that you are ready for a full-blown cold war.  What’s more, getting colleagues to side with you in your rivalries is an indication of someone with confidence issues or someone who is insecure and has no conviction in their own abilities.

However, if your rival is someone who is ruthless, it may be worth finding allies by growing your reputation and cultivating strong relationships with other coworkers. You may want to seek to align with those colleagues who might be sympathetic to you and do recognize your achievement. Build networks within your department and across, compliment a colleague on their achievements, send notes to them on their important or significant days. In this way, you get allies without necessarily pushing yourself on them

  1. Take the lead to ease off tension

It takes a very confident and bold person to take the lead in resolving issues. It takes a person of confidence to take the lead in resolving issues, in making right what seems wrong. Be the one who puts your competition at their ease. Directly offer to resolve the tension and the team’s well-being. When the conflict is resolved, you will be appreciated for taking the first step.  Whatever the result you will be at peace with yourself for taking the lead and this may further boost your own confidence, your colleagues, and your team. Never expect the other to take the lead, you do.

  1. Let your work output talk for you

They say actions speak louder than words. If you are handling a passive-aggressive co-worker trying to outshine you, keep your cool and your head down during these moments, and let your work speak for itself. The best way to make a point is to be good at what you do. Keep working to improve yourself. Work hard to prove to your competition you deserve what you got or what you desire. Do not pay heed to negative comments from rivals. However, pay attention to criticisms that are about your character, attitude, or posturing. Work on them to become a better person than you are now. This way, you win respect from your critics and rivals as well. Authorities are bound to see your efforts and reward you in due course.

  1. Seek the help of your supervisor

If you are working with a very competitive colleague whom you believe may be trying to sabotage or take credit for your work, seek the intervention of your supervisor. Where the rivalry impedes or disrupts work and office cohesion, consider raising this with your manager or supervisor, to keep them abreast of the situation and ensure they are aware of the situation. It is also important to let your manager become aware of the steps you have already taken on your own to have the problem resolved and how the situation is negatively impacting your work.

How Team leads or managers may intervene

It must be understood that organizations that seek to grow must encourage a healthy amount of competition to bring about innovations and push up productivity. However, but the second competition or rivalry descends into adverse frictions, an intervention is often needed to set things right. The following are some of the things a manager or team leader must do to bring all sides to the same page.

  1. Have a dispassionate talk with all sides

When rivalry threatens to destroy the office environment, managers must tackle and douse any inflaming tempers. It would not be in the organization’s interest to pretend that such rivalries would die off on their own. Managers must call both sides and have a conversation with them. Such conversation must not be judgmental, confrontational, or defensive.  Employees must be made to see the effect their attitude may have on the larger organization and the need to dispassionately resolve their difference. If it’s seen that it is the actions or certain decisions of management that had resulted in the rifts then management must explain as much as possible and make all see the need for such decisions. Most of the employee rivalries have a simple solution, provided the solutions are willingly dispassionately sought.

  1. Acknowledge the contribution of all

Managers must acknowledge the contribution of all to team performance. Most rivalries arise where managers almost always single out some few to acknowledge or award them for team efforts.

  1. Show leadership

Managers must show leadership, be impartial, and be seen to be impartial. It is the duty of every manager to be objective, fair, and impartial, regardless of relationship to any of the feuding parties. Managers must show leadership, tact, and the ability to get employees along. Managers must be good examples to team members. When issues come up quickly resolve them before they fester. Letting unresolved issues get in the way of work, sends messages to your employees that leadership is in support or are apathetic to the happenings in the office.  Managers must communicate openly and clearly, giving regular and impartial feedbacks, and identifying issues that directly impact team dynamics, and dealing with them. It is important to remain consistent and critical of attitudes, and behaviors that poison the office working and destroy productivity.


It is critical for employees and management to realize the importance of resolving or managing rivalries in the office. Team leads and managers need to quickly resolve issues that threaten the work environment.  Managers must communicate policies clearly, be seen to be impartial, firm, consistent, and fair in dealing with conflicts or rivalries.

Ben Dattner, Ph.D., organizational psychologist and author of The Blame Game, says it’s …more effective for leaders to foster positive rivalries by creating work environments with a “culture of credit that allows people to raise each other up without covering for themselves or throwing others under the bus.” In that setting, everyone has a chance to win because colleagues—even rivals— can “create social capital for themselves while making the pie bigger for all.”

The writer has extensive experience in Rural Banking in Ghana. He is a researcher in current trends in Human Resources Management and Development and Rural Banking. He may be reached on [email protected] Cell: +233 050 636 3388

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