The Law of the Jungle often operates in the corporate world. “Eat or be eaten” is the credo that many executives live by. They have found that being wary and taking opportunities by the throat are often the only ways to stave off an impending career attack by an aggressive colleague. But when you consider the fact that basic decency must necessarily play out its part – even in the corporate world – then you are in a position to look at other options to keep your career intact and growing.

Here are some ideas that will help you wade through the cesspool of obscene office behavior and come out smelling like a daisy – and on top of the corporate heap!

Praise your Competitive Colleagues

While this may seem counter-productive to what you are trying to achieve, it actually isn’t. Psychological studies have shown that people with aggressive behavior are often the ones with the lowest self-esteem. If that is true, then all you need to do is to build up that self-esteem with some well-deserved praise. Note the use of the term ‘well-deserved’. Obviously, you don’t want to come across as a sycophant, so be careful with your praise and give it only where it is due.

For example, if a co-worker constantly takes home his work so he can accomplish more than other members of his team, praise that person in front of his or her boss. This works to your benefit in two ways: first, your boss will recognize that you are a fair player and are suitable management material. Second, your colleague will appreciate the fact that you praised him or her in front of their boss, therefore unconsciously generating an endearing and strengthened relationship with him or her.

Remember, the friends you make are more valuable than the enemies you make. Anyone can make enemies – it takes something special to make a friend out of a potential enemy.

Deal with Conflict Directly AND Indirectly

Not many people like to be confrontational, and when it comes to sneaky colleagues who try to take credit for others’ work, it sometimes takes a mix of direct and indirect methods to deal with the situation.

If you find that a competitive colleague is being unfair and attempting to take credit for somebody else’s work (including yours), then there are two things you can do.

First, make a strong statement about your displeasure in front of the offending colleague. You don’t have to be overly direct, but make sure they overhear you when you tell another colleague that this sort of behavior irks you and that you are not afraid to take it to senior management. That’s the first course of action.

If the behavior doesn’t change, then follow through on your threat and make sure your boss knows that this is happening. You’re not being a snitch – you’re just looking after the interests of the whole team, and your boss will appreciate it. Another thing you can do is to stop sharing your ideas with that colleague. This will help prevent similar situations from cropping up in future.

Build Strong Relationships with Other Colleagues on the Team

One very effective way to insure yourself against the actions of a competitive colleague is to muster support among the other members of that team. If you are on good terms with your other colleagues, then whatever mischief the offending colleague is apt to do will be diluted by the strong reputation you have with the others.

In a sense, this is like dealing with poison: one way is to remove it; the other is to dilute it to the extent that it can do no lasting damage. Often, the colleague in question will stop their destructive behavior when they know that you have unshakable support from the team. The difficulty with this is that you need to be at your very best – that’s the only way to get your co-workers to have faith enough in you so they’ll support you when the time comes.

Be wary of one big danger here though. Unless you do it in a sincere way, you might end up becoming the colleague you hate so much! If you’re pushy and dominating, and you don’t give other team members their fair share of opportunities, then you’re no different than the person you’re trying to deal with.

Keep your Focus on your Job

This is easier said than done when it comes to dealing with a highly competitive co-worker. It’s very easy to get distracted by what another person does, so it will take Herculean efforts to keep your eye on the ball. Don’t forget: you have to deal with your colleague over and above your own obligations – not at the cost of them.

A lot of people tend to get sidetracked in their attempt to formulate a plan to counter their competitive team members and end up losing focus on their own work. This obviously works against you, so the problem will now become twofold. If you’re a sensitive person, then ignore the other methods of dealing with that person and focus on your own work. Either way, your energy is better spent increasing your own productivity and the quality of your work than in diluting your mind’s focus with other things.

Be Ready to Defend Yourself

The most important thing you can do in these situations is to keep track of everything you do at work. If you finish a report before the due date, pen that down somewhere; if you have helped a colleague with their project, note down the details; if your boss needs help and you’re the one who contributed, keep track; in fact, make this a daily habit and you’ll see your own productivity zoom up the graph.

However, the main benefit of this is so you can defend yourself should a competitive colleague take a potshot at you for something. If you’re prepared to deal with questions, you won’t have to stumble and mumble when something goes wrong. Know your strengths and keep tabs on the positive effect they have on your work. This will allow you to have ready answers for anything that your miscreant colleague may throw at you.

The best piece of advice for dealing with this issue is: be aware of what’s going on around you. If you are oblivious to your surroundings and the actions and intentions of other people, then you’ll be the one to suffer in the end. This has a direct impact on your career. Don’t take it lightly.

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