Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Response Options with an
Overly-competitive Person

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Expert's Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/compete.htm

Updated  01-14-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An effective response occurs when you get your primary needs met well enough, and both people feel respected enough.

      This article offers useful responses to someone you experience as "over-competitive." It assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • basic options for all responses

  • how to give effective feedback to someone

  • overviews of effective assertion and empathic listening skills.


      Do you know anyone who makes all disagreements into a win-lose competition? They feel they must prove that they're right and you're wrong, no matter what. Their spokesman is the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi, who told his players "Winning isn't the only thing - it's EVERYthing!"

      Two difficulties caused by such people are they compulsively avoid (b) win-win compromises and (b) mutually-respectful problem-solving. Over time, that strains relationships and any wish to cooperate with them. Why would anyone choose an overly-competitive stance like this?

      Many such people have well-camouflaged psychological wounds from low-nurturance childhoods. A pervasive wound is excessive shame - the certainty that they are worthless, clumsy, inept, stupid, unattractive, and unlovable. Kids whose adults accuse them of this may become submissive, apathetic, and "depressed," or rebellious, combative, and competitive.

      They're determined to be "the best," so they can prove their adults' wrong and earn their respect and love. Without personal recovery, this is often fruitless because of the adult's wounds and unawareness. The bright side of this compulsion to win can be an asset is some business roles and organizations.

       In their developmental struggle to gain personal and social acceptance, some kids become over-competitive and/or over-aggressive. They're apt to view any criticism or feedback as a challenge, and reflexively need to defend and battle to maintain their own self-respect. Kids and adults with genuine self-respect and self-love can see potential good in (respectful) criticism, and receive it graciously.

      Egotism refers to feeling and broadcasting "I'm better than you (or everyone)." Competitiveness refers to the chronic need to beat you at some imagined or real contest. Some wounded people have both these burdens.

       Healthy competition occurs when people strive to be their personal best, without needing to be smarter, stronger, or more successful than other people. They're competing with themselves. Such people are good-humored losers, and genuinely admire others' personal achievements. Do you know kids and adults like this? Are you one?

       Bottom line - personal competitiveness ranges from mild to normal and healthy to compulsive (unconscious) and excessive. When you must live or work with a compulsive competitor, how do you react? Silent dislike or scorn? Sarcasm? Avoidance? Impatience? Submission? Pretense? Criticism? Disrespect? Argue (Compete)? Gossip about them? Rudeness? Complain? Whine? Confront? Does your response earn your self-respect, honor your integrity, and nourish your relationship?

      There's a better way!

  Response Options

      Remind yourself of these basic options as a foundation. Then follow up with choices like these:

  • Identify specifically what you  (a) feel about and (b) need from the competitive person - e.g. one or more of these: to...

    • vent - describe what you're feeling, and be accepted;

    • inform - tell the other person what you observe about them;

    • cause change - invite him or her to moderate their competitiveness;

    • set or enforce a boundary with the person;

    • avoid conflict;

    • decline to compete; or...

    • something else.

  • Mentally review (a) your mutual rights and (b) the steps for effective assertion. The more you do, the more automatic this will become;

  • Take responsibility for maintaining a two-person awareness bubble, steady eye contact, and staying focused on filling your respective needs.

  • Choose from responses like these, depending on your current mix of needs:

To vent, inform, or learn:

"(Name), I feel you often need to compete or be 'right' when we differ."

"When you argue and debate rather than discuss, I feel _____________."

"(Name), are you aware of what you're doing with me now?" (competing)

"What do you need from me now?"

"You seem to need to make any disagreement into a contest."

Note the theme of these examples, and tailor them to fit your style. There are many similar options.

To cause change or set a limit:

"(Name), I need you to just hear my opinion, not to argue or debate with me."

"From now on, (Name), I'm going to call you every time I feel you're competing / arguing / debating with me instead of discussing."

"Are you aware you're competing again?"

"(Name), your Competitor subself has taken control again. Can you get your true Self back?"

To decline to compete:

"(Name), I'm not going to argue / debate this with you. We just see it differently."

"It seems very important to you that I agree with you on this."

      With any of these responses, the other person may "resist" - argue, explain, deny, blame you, bluster, whine, etc. It helps to expect such resistance as a normal reaction, and respond with respectful empathic listening. Then repeat your original brief response calmly, with steady eye contact, and be quiet and attentive. repeat this sequence until you get what you need or your needs change.

       Here's another option:

The "I'm Right!" Exercise

      Are there kids or adults in your life with whom you "argue?" Do each of you get focused on "winning," getting "your way," and/or "being right"? In most cases, such contests are lose-lose, because both combatants feel disrespected, unheard, and frustrated. Better options are win-win problem-solving, or - in the case of *values* conflicts - agreeing respectfully to disagree.

      Arguments and fighting can turn from differences of opinion or perception into (lose-lose) "power struggles." This brief YouTube video explores what to do about that common relationship stressor:

       Try this safe, powerful way to illustrate the silliness and futility of "I'm right! No, I am!" battles:

  • Agree you have a power struggle, without blame or guilt;

  • Stand and face your partner from about 12" away. Each of you make an "L" shape with your right arm so your forearms are vertical and touching.

  • Clasp your right hands gently, and hold comfortable eye contact.

  • One of you start by saying with some firmness "I'm right." As you do, rotate both your arms leftward to horizontal. Don't use physical strength and don't resist - this is not a physical contest. Do not smile.

  • With steady eye contact, the second person says "No, *I'M* right!" and rotates both your arms rightward 180 degrees to horizontal.

  • The first person says more forcefully "NO! I Am RIGHT!" and rotates both arms back 180 degrees to horizontal.

  • Repeat this sequence four or more times, escalating the tone and power of your voice and the speed of arm-rotation each time. Keep steady eye contact, and don't joke or grin.

  • See what you feel and think, and discuss this together as teammates. Usually you'll both wind up laughing...

       This exercise vividly illustrates (vs. explains) the pointlessness of arguing - i.e. trying to persuade each other "You're wrong and I'm right!"  A variation is to say "I (did 'x'" and rotate) and the other person says "No, you didn't," and rotates back)  Try that for 6-8 times, and see what you feel... This exercise can be specially helpful with stubborn (insecure and/or bored) kids.


      This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting effective ways to respond to common social behaviors. This article offers ways to respond effectively to an overly-competitive person. The ways are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a mutual-respect attitude,

  • clarity on your feelings, needs, and mutual personal rights, and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful   

Share/Bookmark   Prior page  /  Lesson 2  /  Print page 


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat  contact