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Power To Your Voice

Get Out There and Lose

This is going to come as a shock.

There are people at your job who “focus on winning and don’t hesitate to use sneaky tactics to get what they want.”

Crazy, right? But it must be true. I read it in a Sue Shellenbarger column titled, “How Do You Survive Office Competition?” in The Wall Street Journal.

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No doubt you are stunned to conceive of one of your co-workers being so intent on a raise or a promotion they will do anything — even work. But that, apparently, is the case.

Shellenbarger calls these people “hypercompetitors,” and whether you know it or not, or admit it or not, these workplace predators are on the prowl. And heaven help any pathetic weakling with minimal skills and maximum attitude who stands in their way on their way to the top.

Like y-o-u.

You may be what Shellenbarger calls an “Avoider” someone who withdraws and shuts down when challenged to compete.” You could also be a “Worrier” someone who feels anxious in the face of competition. Stress and self-doubt may cause them to perform poorly.”

Avoider or worrier, it doesn’t matter. You’re not a colleague to a hypercompetitor. You’re prey.

Forget for a moment that your boss could perceive your performing poorly as a real improvement over your usual posture of never performing at all. It’s still not going to save you from being run down and run over by a hypercompetitor who has identified you as a hypocompetitor. A hyper is always going to eat a hypo for lunch. And since we’re dabbling in food analogies, let me put it this way — when a hypercompetitor sees you doing minimal work with maximal attitude, you are toast.

Feeling ashamed? You shouldn’t be. The fact that you are a victim and a loser is the fault of your parents. Researchers at a major Budapest university, whose name has appropriated most of the umlauts in Hungary’s strategic reserve, “have identified a ‘warrior’ variant of a gene linked to performance under pressure, which confers an advantage in threatening situations.”

(Exactly who the scientists studied to make their discovery I can’t tell you — probably successful CEOs, top-ranking military leaders and “Dancing with the Stars” contestants who learn that the final dance is pasodoble.)

Still a hypercompetitor denier? Let’s agree to disagree. Even if you still believe there’s no way a person who wants success and money would ever want your job, I’m going to use the few words left to me to teach you how to beat the warrior worker at their own game.

One particularly uncomfortable way to combat a hypercompetitor is to actually do something about it. Instead of hiding under your desk, or their desk, you could respond. And I’m not talking about sending an email, or a Whitman Sampler.

“Gather specific examples of the hypercompetitor’s bad behavior and the reactions it caused,” suggests Chicago leadership-consultant Jessica Bigazzi Foster. “A hypercompetitor won’t understand what you’re asking unless you explain the behaviors that need to end.”

The gathering bad behavior part will not be difficult, but explaining to a hypercompetitor why they are making work difficult for you could be problematic. Try “You scare me. Please leave me alone,” or “If you don’t stop making me look bad in the boss’ eyes, then I’m going to hold my breath until I turn red.”

Still, I wouldn’t expect much success with convincing a hypercompetitor to back off, and if you’re thinking of complaining to the boss, you’re completely out of luck. Chicago career-management consultant Ralph Roberto points out that the boss, when faced with an “aggressive, results-oriented person,” is not likely to favor a passive, excuses-oriented person like you.

This is why part of your strategy for competing with a hypercompetitor must include reminding your manager of all the ways you benefit the company. Can’t think of anything? You could always point out that your poor performance makes everyone else in the company look really good.

That’s got to be worth something.

You could also take steroids, or cut out your morning nap and try to survive on your after-lunch nap alone. But steroids taste yucky, unless you mix them in chocolate milk, and it’s your heavy nap schedule that gives you the energy it takes to sneak out the back door at 3 p.m.

The only thing you can do to beat a hypercompetitor, is get them to compete at your game. Trust me, when it comes to doing less work and more complaining, you cannot be beaten.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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