© 2012 jen

Competition: Friend or Foe

Competition is a tricky subject. In researching this topic I found so much data on the benefits of competition and about the toxicity that can come into play when competition goes too far.  Competition has both good and bad aspects, depending on the situation and the people involved in the dance of competitiveness.

Wikipedia defines it in this way:
“Competition is a contest between individuals, groups, animals, etc. for territory, a niche, or a location of resources. It arises whenever at least two parties strive for a goal which cannot be shared. Competition occurs naturally between living organisms which co-exist in the same environment.”

“Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people.”~ David Sarnoff

This quote spoke to me because I think it encapsulates both the good and bad that can come out of competition.  I’ll be honest here and admit that I really detest competition: in friendships, in the workplace and in families.  For me, even a little competition such as playing games, really doesn’t feel good to me.  I even find the idea that someone might think they are better than one or worse than another troubling, but I digress.

“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.” ~ Walt Disney

Many people love competition: in sports, work and for some people, even in a healthy friendship, if it’s kept light and not malicious.  Some people find competitiveness useful as a tool to challenge them, pushing them to new places. It’s been a long journey for me to even be able to see competition as a useful tool, but I’ve been working on my own response to competitiveness and trying to rethink the entire paradigm of competition as a whole.

“With competition everyone has to try harder.” ~ Harold H. Greene

In it’s place, competition can allow you to really hone in on your skills.  In business this is especially true.  Let’s say you have a business making doggy rain boots called Pup Puddle Protectors. One day you’re on Etsy and discover that someone else is making doggy rain boots with a nearly identical name.  You might want to write them a nasty email, or consult a lawyer.  If you haven’t patented your product, and even if you have, it will be tricky and expensive to follow through with legal proceedings.  The most you can probably do, without lots of time and money, is send a cease and desist letter from your lawyerReally, the best way to handle such a situation is to challenge yourself to find a narrower niche for your product.  Maybe your doggy rain boots have a special clasp that keeps them on a dog’s feet better.  Or maybe you choose really hip fabrics or materials and you sell your product as designer fashion for dogs.  Competition in business can really help you narrow your focus so that you stand out in a crowd.  Also remember that when you have a good idea, other people will want in on it, so a certain amount of competition will happen.  Expecting it is to be realistic about the situation.

“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off. ” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

While some competition can be invigorating, sometimes it can cross the line and feel really terrible—it can feel malicious or threatening.  Why is this person doing the same thing I do?  Taking my business idea?  Using the same information that I told them about to further themselves?  Here’s the truth; this type of thinking will propel you down a rabbit hole of frustration, anger and hurt.  It can tear apart friendships and create tidal waves in your professional life.  Feelings of competition can take hold of you and leave you feeling pretty broken-hearted.  Once you’re there you can fall into a place where you’re so worried about what your competition is up to that you cannot focus on what you’re doing.  This is time consuming, feels bad and worst of all can distract you from your true path and where you’re going.  Long story short, it’s not worth the trouble.

So, what can you do when you feel like someone is competing with you, or like you might want to compete with someone else?

“There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.” ~ Indira Gandhi

First, you can breathe and reflect.  Try not to react, this will only engage the competition further.  For many of us competition can bring on a fight or flight response.  If at all possible, don’t go there because it will only further enmesh you in the competition.  Give yourself some space and time to process the situation.  It doesn’t mean denying that the competition is true.  It’s more about trying to make choices that help you overcome your feelings verses reacting and engaging in the competition.  How do I know this?  Through mistakes.  We all make ’em, but if we can learn from them they can be valuable lessons.

Here’s some tips for dealing with competition:

1. Ask yourself what is it that is really bothering you about the dynamic?  Most of the time there’s an underlying reason.  If it’s in business you might fear that your product won’t stand out as much and that you’ll have to work harder at finding customers, which could affect your bottom line.  Maybe it’s an acknowledgement issue.  You’re not feeling that the other person is acknowledging your part in their projects or in their success.  Once you know the root of your feelings you can begin to address them.

2. Once you’ve determined the underlying reasons for your feelings, try not to make presumptions about what the person’s intentions are.  They may not be trying to hurt you or take from you.  They might be clueless about their actions.  Maybe they admire you and are following your lead.  Maybe they don’t even realize how closely they are following in your footsteps.  Also remember, that even if you invented the first dog rain boot, it doesn’t mean that you can be the only person who can ever make it.  We have to share.  If that’s a given, that we must share to some extent, how can you make this work for you?  Can you collaborate with your competitor in some way?  Sounds crazy right?  But if you’re working on a shared goal, you cannot compete in the same way.  What can you learn from competition?  There’s always a lesson hidden in there somewhere.

3. In business, finding ways to make your product or service stand out is important to eliminating competition.  If it’s a friend that you’re experiencing competitiveness with, you need to assess if this is a person you want to be close to.  If you want to keep the friendship, but avoid competition, something to realize is that every time you discuss your success with your friend, they will probably try to one up you.  Avoiding talk about aspects of yourself and your accomplishments can help to ease the competitiveness in the friendship, however, this can be a challenge too.  Most of us seek friendships where we can just be ourselves.  If you’re having to hold back part of yourself to accommodate competition, it can take a toll on a friendship. But I would argue that it is possible to salvage a friendship after competition.

For me, the thing I learned from past competitive dynamics is that I always want to make people who have helped me feel truly appreciated and acknowledged.  I go pretty far out of my way when someone tells me I’ve done a good job at something. I try to think, who else helped me succeed and then I tell the person, “Thank you.  I couldn’t have done it without so and so.  We’re a good team.” Or whatever the situation may be.  The interesting thing I’ve found is that including others in your success actually feels better.  You feel like a team and the people you include in your moments of praise are likely to want to praise you in the future.

Take a look at competition in your life and try reframing it. Include others in your success and see where it takes you.

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