Question: Dealing with a hyper-competitive colleague

A recent addition to our management team is leading to interpersonal issues between executives. Our new colleague is well qualified and execution focussed, but she is also very competitive.

She comes across as someone trying to prove a point in every review. While our boss feels this will shake things up... it is leading to defensive reactions by other executives during management reviews, and definitely affecting collaborative work needed to solve broader challenges.

Appreciate your advice, in dealing with this issue.

3 Expert Insights

You could try giving her constructive feedback (a longer response would be required to discuss what this might look like;) however, if she is being encouraged to show this behavior by the boss to “shake things up,” there may be little you can do to change her behavior.

The only behavior you can control in this situation is your own. I would advise you to take the high road, avoid making destructive comments or letting this person get under your skin.  I have seen examples like this in a number of organizations. Most often, they ultimately self destruct because of the competitive behavior. Just don’t let her take you down with her by getting involved in excessive competition. It can be frustrating, but it’s important to control your reactions.

Another member (above) has said it simply.  This person and the full management team would benefit greatly by providing coaching for the new addition.  She might well provide an added and even needed perspective to the team however it becomes her job to offer her thoughts and ideas to the mix without losing the willing participation of many others.  Coaching is an effective way of making that happen

I would have you step back and reflect on your analysis of what’s actually going on here.  One possible interpretation is the one you offered - that your colleague is hyper-competitive, which is creating problems for the team.  But there are other interpretations, equally possible.
- Perhaps your boss has brought this colleague onto the team for the explicit purpose of shaking things up by challenging her peers.  Perhaps the boss has concerns about the team’s performance, which s/he is addressing indirectly by inserting this new person.
- Perhaps the colleague continues to behave as she does because she’s receiving rewards from the boss for her behavior.
- Perhaps your other teammates are feeling put on the spot by her direct behavior, and in their defensiveness they’re labeling her as the problem.

Your challenge, as I see it, is to look in a more nuanced way at things and see what others (your boss, your teammates, you) might be contributing to the situation.

One positive step would be to have a constructive but direct conversation with the colleague aimed at understanding the intentions behind her behaviors. You might also  initiate such a conversation with your boss, to understand how he/she sees the team’s performance and how his expectations of the new colleague fit into that.

In short, managing this challenge offers you an opportunity to grow by going beyond your initial assumptions and reactions. It’s entirely possible that your initial analysis is accurate and that your new colleague’s style is simply too aggressive, and if so, taking the exploratory path I suggest will help you stay centered in your reactions to her.