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Don’t fear your competitive colleague. Here’s why

July 29, 2015, 7:00 PM UTC

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you deal with a competitive colleague? is written by Donna Wiederkehr, CMO of Dentsu Aegis Network.

I know first-hand that there is a big difference between the ideas that can come from the respectful, dynamic tension of a collaborative team versus a culture where coworkers see themselves as competitors. I currently work in one of the most collaborative cultures of my entire career and I can tell you, it’s a game changer. Here are some ways I’ve seen people turn a competitive spirit into a force for driving positive change:

Find what’s fueling the competition
When you’re working with a highly competitive person, it’s often useful to step back and try to assess their motivations. It’s not a perfect science, particularly if you’re just getting to know someone for the first time, but it can be illuminating. They may have had previous experiences with someone taking credit for their work and have now over-corrected. Or perhaps they have significant financial pressures at home and have translated that into a more competitive stance at work. Don’t always assume that the behavior is mean spirited.

Give credit where it’s due
If a coworker has brought an innovative idea to a project or assignment, publicly acknowledge it among peers and senior management. Be confident enough in your own skills to acknowledge others’ strengths. It’s the right thing to do, and is a great way to build your team’s morale.

Turn competition into inspiration
Each and every person you work with has the potential to teach you something and inspire you in some way but it’s up to you to let them. Ambitious people help us all work harder. A respectfully competitive working relationship can be productive and very motivating. Be thankful that you have someone around who is inspiring you to reach your full potential.

Know when it’s time to leave
A handful of competitive people in an organization are one thing, but if that is truly the corporate culture, I would strongly suggest that you find a more positive environment. I believe that ‘a divided house will not stand’ — meaning the company is not likely to thrive if everyone is competing against each other when they should be working toward a common goal.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you deal with a competitive colleague?

3 reasons why competitive employees are good for business by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

How to keep your cool with a competitive colleague by Kristin Lemkau, CMO of JPMorgan Chase.