You are about to hear about a promotion that you have been dreaming of and working toward for years. Unfortunately, two of your closest colleagues are also up for consideration, and you know that only one of you will advance. Stress is building, and interactions with your coworkers are increasingly tense. This is one of many common scenarios where competition can dominate the workplace.
Many institutions subtly or overtly encourage a dog-eat-dog culture where personal advancement trumps other considerations. In these highly-competitive professional environments, employees need emotional savvy to navigate relationships with co-workers and to function with resilience in a stressful atmosphere. Below are 4 tips for handling a competitive workplace with emotional intelligence.
Practice mindfulness. Defined by researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally,” mindfulness skills increase emotional intelligence by teaching the practitioner to observe both internal thoughts and emotions and external events with curiosity and openness. We learn mindfulness skills by focusing attention on breathing, and by being gentle with ourselves when our minds wander. We put these skills to use when we notice how we think and feel in competitive situations, and are able to choose our response rather than just reacting.
Know how to calm yourself in an intense situation. When you notice your emotions rising up, you can gain some objectivity by bringing your focus to physical sensations. Bring your attention to the feel of your feet on the ground, your fingers holding a pencil, your breath moving in and out. Focusing on the physical will give you a sense of grounding and allow you to approach intense situations from a place of wisdom.
Maintain compassion toward yourself and your competitors. Competition can be rough on your self-esteem. You will be more resilient to stress when you view yourself with kindness, and when you practice encouraging self-talk. On the other hand, resist the temptation to objectify colleagues in order to make it easier to compete with them. Practice wishing your rivals, adversaries, and fellow workers well. We are all in this game together, even when we are in competition. You can perform to your utmost while holding empathy for all that you share in common with your coworkers.
Live in the present. Keeping your attention on the present will help you with workplace competition on multiple levels. Focusing on the moment allows you to keep past baggage out of current conflicts. Being present helps you to pour yourself completely into each project, and therefore to perform your best. Finally, living in the present will allow you to truly relax when you are away from work, refreshing you for each new work day.
Competition is everywhere in the workplace. Learning to meet that competition with emotional intelligence will help you to live and work with greater integrity, productivity, and peace.
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Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are. New York: Hyperion, 1994.