Competitive work colleagues


Hello forum, I'm in my first year of a PhD. A person has just returned from maternity leave and has become involved with the project. She works part time and has previously worked for the department for a few years. Since shes moved back into the department, she seems to be hellbent in getting her view across at the expense of my own etc. I've been working steadly since September, I write loads of reports for them, but she seems to like to belittle my contribution to the projects; which is a little upsetting!

Perhaps its a personality thing, shes sociable and mingles with all the staff; as I'm 'only' a student (although im treated like a staff member!) I tend to get myself fully involved in the project and don't do as much of the socialising and mingling (although I do some socialising!).

I just don't know how to deal with really competitive people! In meetings, she likes to get her own opinion across all the time, and tends to overwhelm the meetings with her questions and comments. It sometimes feels that she wants to take over my position/role which is a little unsettling.

Does anyone have any advice?


Well, pineapple,

not an easy one to solve.

Be aware that success often not based on performance (like the amount of effort you put into something) but more on how it is presented. Hence that managers are often very good in finding information and managing it, but not intellectually brilliant

Assuming that you cannot change the other person at your work it may be an idea to look at assertiveness yourself. One can do courses in this area in which you learn that you have the same rights as others and your points are as valid as the other persons. It is not easy to change behaviour, will take years, yet working on it can be very beneficial and helpful to move on in your career


pineapple, that sounds like a difficult situation.

did it occur to you that she might be acting this way out of her own insecurity? perhaps she feels that through her maternity leave and now parttiming she has lost or is in danger of losing full membership in your team. so she needs to assert herself and prove that although she is only there parttime she is still up to scratch and all.

this could be totally wrong, of course. i was just trying to imagine what i might feel like, coming back from maternity leave. maybe you as the only person with a even weaker position than hers gets to feel the brunt of it?


if you think it might be a bit like this, basically an insecurity thing, then perhaps it would help to give her what she needs - appreciation, confirmation. (i am not saying you should tell her she is doing well if she isn't. but if you do feel she is basically doing a good job, why not let her know? even just a one-off comment of "hey, that's good work" might do the trick) then it might be over quickly. or go have coffee with her and talk it over, maybe.

these are just some thoughts. i find it real hard to give useful advice so if it doesn't sound right to you, just ignore it, ok?


Has she always had this competitive streak, ro do you think it is, as Shani suggests, a consequence of insecurity? If the latter, then Shani is right.

But I've had to deal with a colleague who was unhealthily competitive: did virtually no actual work but make a lot of noise in meetings, and tried to claim credit for other's successes (most memorably telling me that my experiment had only worked because she had been praying for it to work, and that I ought to be grateful or she won't pray for me in future and therefore my stuff won't work ). Was also forever schmoozing and namedropping.

I wwas given this advice: if she tries to dominate a meeting, tell her very nicely that her suggestions are most welcome and perhaps she can arrange a separate meeting just to consider them? Then(her ego massaged) you can get back to the point of the meeting here and now.


Message Removed.


Your last point is very true, Mango: you have to try to be nice because these people love it if you get wound up. They try really hard to push your buttons.


I'm the quietest shyest person myself.
Anyway she probably does need to assert herself if she is more senior than you and has been away, academia is very competitive and she needs to get on get papers etc etc.
Thinking laterally could you say you like her style in discussions or like blah that she does, and could she teach you to be more like that, or have discussions just with you. It has the advantage you are clued up on what she will talk about to other people.
You could talk to other people about work to gain confidence and practice getting your ideas across.


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Jeez...ONCE was enough. You didn't need to put it in every post! I'm assuming this relates to something undergraduate anyway.


The number of these characters that abound.....its amazing! First of all, sorry to hear it, its an unpleasant and stressful situation at best. My own thought is often that these people with abrasive and difficult personalities have personality disorders( I am not trying to diagnose this, not my field!!! but there is something very disordered in the behaviour you describe--one thinks of perhaps a narcissistic personality disorder). If that is so, they are not able to help themselves, much, and often would not see the need. While others are concerned about getting along, these lot are not, they cannot see beyond their own needs or that people have needs or desires that do not match their own.

Dealing with them--well, you can display your own behaviour in contrast, being polite, with a lot of please's and thank you's--and sometimes saying "Oh, that is very interesting, can you tell me more about it," when they have made one of their very inappropriate remarks.

The advise to not react strongly is good advise--don't go to their level, and don't reward their off behaviour with the reaction they are looking for. Ignoring them ( when possible) is best. Passive-aggressive people hate being ignored, but they are easy enough to blow off. More aggressive types will still be befuddled when you only respond with much graciousness and no anger or hostility or defensiveness.

I am reminded of the antics of a dog I used to have, when the other older dogs in the household would get mad at him for stealing their food or toys, he would bounce around and act as if they were trying to play, he would do the classic dog behaviour of bowing and wagging his tail, a big grin on his face. The other dogs eventually gave up being mean to him or trying to bully him, as he always acted as if they meant to play--they did not get the response they wanted--and in turn, he had his way in everything, food, toys, preferred couch, etc!

So, if you can smile at someone who has made a really off remark and respond with great ( greatly misplaced?!) enthusiasm, somehow, that might knock them off the rails, as well.

You might also have a word in private with whomever oversees your meetings about making sure that all have a chance to speak. I really dislike it when someone takes over meetings in this fashion and in a recent meeting spoke up to the moderator about it seeming like not everyone was being able to talk. There are often people from cultures who might find speaking up in a meeting difficult, and yet, they might wish to contribute, but in no way are going to do verbal warfare with some hotheaded egotist. Those people are sadly then drowned out. I think a person running the meeting must be alert and sensitive to these things and ensure that everyone is comfortable, no one is harrassed or bullied into silence.

When I made this comment at the meeting I was at, the moderator agreed, and a few people who had been silent then spoke up, and got some encouragement, and this left the meeting bully hissing really inappropraite comments to me under her breath which I just ignored.

Good luck with your situation.