Let's look at each of the four parties involved:
If you happen to be engaged in some "friendly" career competition, identify whether you are playing offense or defense. Also ask yourself why the battle exists. Take a step back and look at the situation globally. You might get better insight into why "it's on!" It might be a lot less personal than you think. The concept of unity is swell, but try to take a paycheck out of the hands of a family and watch how individualistic things become.
My dad has always told me to "sit back and enjoy the show." It's not every day you get to attend the circus for free. But work can be exactly that—and they pay you, too! Don't encourage any tension or interject yourself in order to make things better or worse for either participant. Rather, observe motivation and tactics, and try your best to learn how each person chooses to engage. That way, you'll be ready for the competition should it seek you out in the future.
Ah, we've finally come to the true beneficiary of competition—maybe that's why they like it so darn much. If Joe and Tom are battling for the same position, each is likely to put in more hours and work harder, thereby giving the company more. It should be noted, however, that there are organizations that frown upon competition (like that sleepy mom and pop office that just wants everyone to get along). Your boss will like the battle until it crosses his desk and takes up his time.
One final thought on competition at work: If enough time passes, rivals can be paired together, kinda like peanut butter and jelly, or the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. I'm all for team play, but you should be judged by your own merit. What grown adult needs a shadow? Not this one.
We'd love to hear how you feel about workplace competition. How is it regarded where you work? Is it fostered? Frowned upon? Speak out!
After holding down various media jobs, including stops at MTV Networks and Fox News, Andrew G.R. was completely discouraged—not only about his own career but about the lack of job resources that truly spoke to him. Enter Jobacle.com, the employment blog and podcast designed to Make Work Better.