by | Oct 17, 2015 | Leadership, Team Work, Treat People with Respect

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What if we committed to helping each other with the same amount of effort that we put into competing against each other? What could we all achieve? What if we chose to compete less?

I recently read a blog post by Daniel Pink and he was praising a book called “Friend and Foe” by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer. This book discusses the science behind our brain’s hardwiring to both cooperate and compete (I haven’t read the book yet but I added it to my ever-growing reading list). This is a snippet from the blog…

​“We are hardwired – in the very architecture of the human brain – to both cooperate and compete. We do both all the time, in every relationship, often unconsciously. That means that all of our relationships are characterized by the tension between being a friend and being a foe. At work, we collaborate with our colleagues to complete projects, but we compete for raises and promotions. As new parents, we cooperate to raise our infants, but compete for sleep. As siblings, we experience both “brotherly love” and “sibling rivalry.” Simply recognizing that this tension exists in every relationship can help us find the right balance between these forces and achieve better outcomes at work and at home.”

​What great food for thought! This sparked the idea for a little experiment…As I went through my work week, I intentionally paid attention to when I felt the need to cooperate and when I felt the need to compete. I then challenged myself to better define the specific emotions and drives behind each of these needs. I made a list throughout the week.

  • When I wanted to compete, the words that came to mind were “threatened, defensive, judgment, insecurity, fear of failure, desire to win, excitement, the pressure to perform, need for recognition, and self-worth.”
  • When I wanted to cooperate, the words that came to mind were “helpfulness, supportive, teamwork, need for recognition, service, gratitude, proud, and joy.”

To me, this was incredibly eye-opening. Looking at these black and white words describing such powerful emotions and recalling how each situation made me feel made me want to challenge myself to cooperate more and compete less. As competitive as I am, I would rather help someone else win even if it meant I lost. I would prefer to feel the joy of helping someone succeed rather than stand by and do nothing because I feel threatened. I would rather share the limelight with my team and receive less recognition as an individual.

I am not saying that there isn’t a place for competition in the workplace or on a team. Being competitive can aid in moving things forward. It can motivate us to perform better. Competition can be energizing and helps to get the creative juices flowing. Some of the world’s greatest innovations have come from the need and desire to compete. But this little experiment helped me better recognize the potential of cooperation and the powerful effect it can have on the emotional health of individuals and the team. In my opinion, cooperating encourages leadership, builds self-esteem, creates a sense of belonging, and generally improves your health. It feels so much better to work together as a team than is does to work against each other as individuals.

I challenge each of you who read this blog post to take just 10% of the effort you put towards competing with those you work with and instead direct it towards cooperating and helping your teammates become successful. My guess is that you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more you are able to achieve and how satisfied and positive you feel.

I’ll leave you with some wise words of Franklin D Roosevelt…

​“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”

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