Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Striking Back at Harmful Competitiveness

“There’s no ‘I’ in team.”

I talked with a friend recently who’s having a hassle with their overly-competitive supervisor. It seems that (for whatever reason) this supervisor is threatened by the grasp their subordinate has on their role; good performance is being punished—the supervisor might be thinking that doing well is perhaps a license for showing the boss up?

It also seems odd that my friend has started to watch their back, not knowing what angle the supervisor might begin to strike from next. It’s a competitive environment not conducive to the best outcomes, professionally or personally.

There’s no shortage of competitive people in life is there? These people, who act like enemies, can come from our very workplaces, and even our families! Everything suddenly becomes an issue of win/lose and win/win collaborative efforts go out the window, and so for that matter does trust. Fear is accorded a present high value in the relationship and fairness is no longer the gauge; aggression is.

How do we contend in these environments? How do we adequately fight back, especially when we feel we don’t want to fight and we just want to get on with everyone?

There’s little to be gained from competing the way others do. If we did this we’d be competing with the enemy’s preferred armoury and that would get us next to nowhere. We’re still no closer to finding a good way out of the mess.

The answer lies in defusing the situation of any competitive advantage. We do this by changing the rules; not the rules of the game, but how we play.

We don’t fight, but we wisely wait patiently to do what only we need to do.

We keep a level head and manage our emotions skilfully.

We don’t resort to email and we try not to engage in lengthy discussion. Small doses face-to-face does the trick.

We leave plenty of time to reflect over issues.

We try to keep things very simple.

We play on a level field, on neutral territory, where possible.

We stay calm and don’t panic.

We forgive ourselves (and the other person) if emotions do get frayed. We make quick amends.

We understand it is they who feel more threatened (somehow) than we do. Fear is the basic cause of most aggression.

We seek people—friendly people—to talk out our issues, so we at least have sounding boards and modes of expression in our corner.

We place ourselves in a fair situation.

For all these things demonstrate we have some sense of proactive and responsible control over the situation at hand—and this is not to be underestimated. We’ve made our own rules and we’re even “managing” those above us when we do these things. Everyone wins. That’s the hope in any event. For, if everyone wins, we do too.

© 2009 S. J. Wickham.

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