You might be tempted to say: "What's wrong with a little competition?" Nothing's wrong with it. It's healthy. It's when your need to compete, and be superior to someone else, gets in the way of the best possible outcome for both of you — competition becomes a liability. I'm talking about the kind of person who always needs to be "one up" on other people.
People who live their lives in competition with everyone –and we all know someone like that — might get admired for their achievements, but they don't get the freely given attention and support of others. A person who exudes the message: "I'm smarter, or prettier, or richer, or more committed than you are" doesn't garner people's trust. That's because the message is clearly about "Me first."
A willingness to be flexible means that occasionally you're not number one. You may need to take a backseat to a colleague who's trying something innovative. It may mean that you'll need to compromise in a negotiation. Maybe the fact that you're the best salesperson of the month every month prevents other people from even trying.
Does your level of competitiveness get in the way of relationships? If you play a one-on-one sport such as tennis or racquetball, do you always play to win, to beat the other person? If you play board games or video games with your children, is it more important to win than to have fun?
On the one hand it seems as though we're being pushed to be more competitive. Many of us work for companies that are in fierce marketing battles with global competition. There are fewer tax dollars to go around, fewer jobs in many industries. Yet the paradox is the solutions we're finding to those problems involve not MORE competition, but MORE collaboration.
For years I've developed books and other materials for people in one of the most competitive arenas imaginable: selling. I've spoken to thousands upon thousands of dedicated salespeople who relish competition. Yet my message has been consistent: learn to approach the potential customer or client as a consultant. True professionals in sales, the ones who are successful in all respects, not just in dollars, are those people who focus more on helping than on selling, who listen more than talk, who problem-solve rather than persuade. These collaborative techniques create many more long-term customers than one-shot sales.
I don't teach 50 ways to close a sale. I teach a step-by-step consultative approach that allows both the customer and the salesperson to feel good about each other. When I discovered that selling didn't have to be a contest of getting you to buy my product or service, and that it didn't have to be that I either won or lost, I was relieved. I presented you with choices, helped you think through whether any of them was suitable for you and made sure you were satisfied if you did choose to buy. Whether you bought something or not, I had done my job. I didn't need to be the best salesman of the month. I just needed to meet my own goals and go to bed knowing I had done a thorough job of collaboration.
I just have one tip for you if you have a streak of competitiveness that gets in the way of your relationships: stop seeing the other person as an opponent. Reframe the relationship as a mentoring one, as a friendship, as a chance to do something together that neither of you could do alone. Look directly into that person's eyes and see a fellow human being who doesn't want to be beaten, or made into a loser any more than you do. People who are always out to win may collect a lot of marbles, but they lose a lot of friends. And I'd trade a bag of marbles for a good friend any day.