7 Ways To Be Competitive At Work Without Being A Jerk

There's nothing wrong with a little healthy competition when it comes to your career. Seeing someone else get a gold star during a brain storm session or completely kick butt with their project reveal can stir your sleeping ambitions and get you clambering out of a work rut. A co-worker reaching her full potential can get you moving to do the same. After all, you're just as talented as your cubicle buddy, and have equally impressive ideas as well as the grit to lock it down and work hard to create something truly special —  so why not get moving on it?

But just to be clear, getting the urge to compete doesn't mean you're not happy for their recent success — it just means they've become the Pinterest-equivalent of a "go get 'em" quote, and you feel ready to put some of your best work forward. But how, exactly, do you do it without looking like you're coming up behind them to steal the gold?

Healthy competition in the work place can be a great source of making you reach deep and go a little further than you were originally willing to, but it also has a tendency to make you look like you don't think there's room for everyone to succeed. So how do you inspire each other to compete, but not be a jerk about it? Below are seven ways to be competitive at work, without creating enemies. 

1. Compete Against Yourself

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A sure fire way to make yourself give it your all is not to compete with the person across from you, but with yourself. Take a moment to asses what your best work has been to date, and see how you could top it. Take a project that you were really proud of or a moment of crazy-hard work, and see how you could go even further. 

Rachel Bitte, Chief People Officer at Jobvite, wrote for career development site The Muse, "Rather than thinking 'I’m going to beat so-and-so,' tell yourself, 'I’m going to set my own career goals, and then work to achieve and surpass them.'...And instead of comparing yourself to others, you’ll be focused on building yourself up — which will lead to much more positive and enjoyable time spent at work."

Make goals and then shatter them: Plan to write three more extra articles this week, study for four more hours than usual this weekend, come up with new pitches, or interact a little more than expected with a client — whatever it is, see how you can top your personal best. 

2. Remember: It's Not About Winning, It's About Doing Your Best

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When you get the urge to rise to new challenges because of someone's success, take out the jerk level from it by not focusing on winning, but on growing. See how the new vigor will help you become better at your job, and what your upcoming project or goal will do to further your career. Then, make it all about that. 

Self-development writer Christopher Schoonover at Lifehack wrote, "Think about how you will go about competing and what it will mean for your growth in the long run." By paying attention to what doors your new ideas will open, you'll keep the momentum going. Your new inspiration won't fizzle out once you get bored of the race, rather it'll keep pushing forward because there are so many opportunities ahead of you now. 

3. Use It To Help You Take Risks

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Use your competition not to cream someone in your department, but rather to get you out of your comfort zone. If you saw your counterpart take a risk you were always hesitant to take and then it paid off, use that as motivation to start crossing some lines yourself. 

Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn, shared with Fortune"Always be ready to make bold moves — and accept the risks that come with them. Competition keeps work exciting, and perhaps more importantly, challenging." Accept those challenges: Stay over-time to perfect an idea, pitch more innovative (less lazy) projects, spend your weekends researching, use your down-time to polish projects you'd usually just hand in at deadline. Use this competition to rise to the level of the person ahead of you: Be better than you've been. 

4. Use It To Get More Connections

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You can't do things alone, so if you recently got a kick in the pants that made you want to be more than you've been letting yourself be, don't just focus that energy on speeding ahead of the golden-girls in your company. Funnel it into other opportunities too, like making connections. The bigger (and more engaged) of a professional network that you have, the more opportunities and interesting ideas will be thrown your way.

John Boitnott, self-development writer for entrepreneur site, Inc, suggested, "Think outside of your current situation and spend time networking within your industry. Attend conferences and trade shows to make the connections you need to help your own company...All of these opportunities will extend your network and potentially lead to exciting career opportunities." Use those energies to build relationships and learn from your industry — you never know who'll give you a helping nudge to exceed your own goals. 

5. See How You're Different From Your Competition

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A great way to be competitive but not ruffle any feathers is to see how you differ from your inspiration. That way you can polish the abilities that she doesn't have, and grow in your own way without stealing her successes. You both could be doing the same job, but you can excel in different areas and bring more value to the company. 

Career writer Lindsay Cross at career-development site The Grindstone, "You need to find what differentiates you from your co-worker...Figure out what makes you indispensable to your company."  See what you bring to the table that others may struggle with, and then make it your mission to develop the hell out of it. Your team members will take notice, and — even better — you'll become the go-to for a certain skill or vision. 

6. Use Your Competitive Streak As A Chance To Learn

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Instead of trying to knock your competition out of first place, use your new-found spur of motivation to learn from them. Observe what they've been doing to make them such an asset to the company and enthusiastic worker, and see if you could take pointers from their drive. 

Bitte wisely pointed out, "If you pay attention, your competition can teach you the biggest lessons." Maybe they have an amazing time management routine that allows them to get such an impressive amount finished, or perhaps they tap into resources and podcasts that get them thinking in new ways, or maybe they've been taking classes to help polish up on their skills — learn what they've been up to and see if you could use it to better yourself. 

7. Use It As A Chance To Collab

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Combining forces can be powerful: If the whole point of friendly competition is to better yourself, why not ask to partner up so the two of you can push each other to reach for your personal best. See if you can partner up on a project, create a pitch together, take some time to share techniques, or just agree to grab coffee once a week to learn from each other. Having a friend that pushes you is so much better than having an opponent that makes you feel like you're lacking. 

Seasoned entrepreneur and start up mentor Jason Saltzman wrote for Entrepreneur, "If you work in a vacuum, you are missing out. I have seen startups that had the sense to work with their competition. To my amazement, this actually worked out ridiculously well." If you use competition as a tool to grow and learn, nothing but stellar results will come out of it. 

Images: @aclotheshorse/Instagram

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