A competitive mindset is a difficult one to maintain at length. Imagine if you were competing against everyone on Earth from the moment you woke up to the time you went to sleep. Picture yourself being competitively scored on how well you made your bed, how masterfully you brewed your coffee, and how stylishly you dressed up to go to work in the morning. Pretend the points you attained in each facet of your day were tallied and used to determine your social and financial standing. What if those on the bottom-end of the scoreboard were punished in some way? What if there was no way to not play this game which you were forced into?
That sort of competitive domain would be a difficult one to thrive in. You’d view the ones you compete against (everyone) as opponents rather than peers. Not having a sense of autonomy would amplify negative feelings toward others. The game would quickly turn extreme. You’d find it difficult to trust, to love, and to open up. You’d do your best to suppress your vulnerabilities, and be closed off. You’d focus on discouraging opponents from gaining an upper hand by attempting to hide your every weakness, and by exploiting the weaknesses you notice in them.
Though reality may be a less extreme version of what’s described above, competition plays a significant role in our existence. We have the teams we root for, the politicians we vote for, and the religions we preach for. We identify with certain groups, and vilify the ones who threaten the dominance of the group that we’re part of. Why we do that is, by many accounts, a complicated question.
Determining the right and wrong aspects about the competitive mindset is an exercise which differs based on the domain in question. In a mixed martial arts domain, you’d be allowed to thrust your elbow into the bridge of your opponent’s nose with as much power as you can manage to generate. In the corporate domain, you’d need to find other ways of delivering enough damage so that your opponent is no longer a threat.
This article is about interacting with two entities which are in competition with one another. As mentioned earlier, competitions play a major role in the world we live. You may manage a team of individuals at work who compete against each other in competitions for which the rules are not written or described. People center competitions based on who has the nicer collection of shoes, or who can make a specific senior executive like them more. Specifically, this article aims to warn you about the tendency for those who compete against each other to discredit aspects about their opponent which have nothing to do with the competition at hand.
For example, two people who are competing for the same promotion will be enticed to discredit how the other manages their desk space, and talks on the phone, if these topics come up in conversation.
The Biased Competitor
You’ll sometimes find yourself in conversations with people about a third party. Without your understanding of the reason, the person you’re speaking with will begin to discredit seemingly unimportant aspects of the third party’s attributes and tendencies. The competition they consider themselves to be a part of may be nuanced and unobvious.
This tendency to discredit aspects about our competitors which are unrelated to the competitive domain in question, seems to stem from attaching aspects of our personal identity to winning that competition.
For instance, the desire to be promoted at work is attached to facets which are more personal than the professional corporate environment. We would be able to pay off our mortgage quicker perhaps, and would be more able to save for our children’s education, if we got promoted. Your competitors would have their own personal strings attached to their efforts of attaining that same promotion.
In the heat of competition, we assume the personal facets which amount to propel our competitive efforts to be more legitimate than those of our competitors’. Since we become personally invested in winning the competition at hand – and if winning becomes tied to our identity and self esteem – then other aspects which comprise our personality / uniqueness will be perceived as threatened too.
For example, if you lost your starting spot to another individual on the recreational basketball team you play on, you’d begin to question why that happened. Your inquiry could lead you to analyzing your training methods, critiquing your own cardiovascular ability, and perhaps cleaning up your diet. What if you’re not getting enough sleep? What if you should limit the alcohol intake which results in you having bad practices in the mornings? Aspects of our personality and daily habits can quickly make their cameo in competitive domains.
We’d prefer to limit these painful moments of self-analysis after a loss in a competition we take seriously. In our efforts to limit the chances of questioning our personal habits, preparation methods, and general ways of being, we seek to validate them against the same personal aspects of those who we compete against. As the competition is taking place, we’ll try our best to convince ourselves that we’re better than our competitors in aspects other than the one in which we’re competing.
This convoluted need to validate every little piece which amounts to generate our performance amidst strenuous competition, can entice us to discredit the most minimal of quirks about those we compete against.
A Need for Validation Brings Bias Into the Conversation
The need for one’s habits, personal quirks, and mundane behaviors to be validated against their competitor’s, entices them to be biased in a conversation about the people against which they compete. This article’s aim is to remind you of this tendency, and to perceive someone’s dialogue about those they compete against with a grain of salt.
Even if the conversation is not about the competitive domains in question, remember people’s tendency to discredit, and propel biased ideas about, their competitors.
Be prepared in your management of a team at work who compete against each other in certain aspects. Be prepared in your conversations with your kids who compete for your love, if nothing else. Be prepared for your conversations with friends who seek to downplay the accomplishments and tendencies of your other friends due to competitions between them about which you’re not aware.
It isn’t fair to those who the conversation is about, if you don’t factor for this tendency of biased dialogue coming from their competitors. When attempting to gather information about a specific group or person, ensure that you don’t seek it from their competitors, even if the topic in question is not related to the competition in which they’re in.
If you believe, and act on, a biased version of interpretation, you’d be used as a pawn in someone’s act of validating their competitive habits. You would empower them in their desire to win. You would be doing a disservice to the idea of a fair competition if you validate someone’s word against their competitor’s habits, tendencies, and personality. Especially if you’re in a position of authority and hold an opinion which is adhered to, doing so could lead to dangerous results.
When you have knowledge that the people you talk to are competing against those who the conversation is about, be sure to act as neutrally as you can manage. Hear the other’s dialogue, but try not to be too affirmative of the ideas they present. Analyze whether they’re attempting to discredit the person they’re competing against in subtle ways which are unrelated to the competition at hand.
If they are, try not to be used as a proponent of someone’s desire to beat out another, as you may not know what their victory can cause or entail. It’s best to keep out of taking sides in competitions within which you hold no stake in, and this article has attempted to shine light on one of small way you could be doing just that.