A little friendly competition is one thing, but what happens when that competition is with a close friend? With the right amount, it can be a great way to motivate each other or, at the very least, lead to some fun, playful banter. But competition can also be destructive, especially when it becomes excessive or when both friends aren’t on the same page. It can bring us some of the less desirable sides in each of us and make a healthy relationship turn toxic. That’s why managing competitiveness in our friendships is so important. Here are several tips to help you do just that.
Show your support.
As tempting as it is to fight fire with fire, sometimes the best way to handle competition is to take a step back and offer your support. When a friend is overly competitive, it often comes from a place of fear or insecurity. That’s why it can help to validate or reinforce a friend’s strengths (e.g., “You are right! You are really great at that.”) if you notice that they are starting to be competitive. Not only can being genuinely supportive bring down the intensity of the competition, understanding that their behavior probably stems from insecurity can help you feel compassionate and connected instead of frustrated or distant.
It’s also important to think about the reasons you are getting so caught up in the competition or why you are so affected by it. Is it really just annoying, or might it touch on some of your own vulnerabilities or insecurities? Instead of acting on the feelings competition can stir up, like frustration, envy, or sadness, try showing yourself some love and self-compassion. Reflect on the things you like about yourself, your strengths, and, most importantly, how hard you are working towards your goals. Practicing gratitude can also help you to feel more content and satisfied with where you’re at. Supporting yourself in these ways will help you feel more secure and less affected by competition when it creeps up. The 5 Minute Journal is one of my favorite ways to incorporate gratitude into a daily routine!
Confront your friend.
If you’ve tried supporting both yourself and your friend and haven’t seen a change in the overall level of competitiveness, it’s probably worth being a little more direct. Instead of focusing on your friend’s tendency to be overly competitive, frame it as a process between the two of you. And take responsibility for your piece of this dynamic. This will help your friend be a little more receptive to what you have to say and, ideally, help you come up with possible solutions together. Share a few key examples of what you feel competition looks like in your friendship, why it bothers you, and how you think it can be dealt with. It can also help to reinforce that you still want to hear about your friend’s successes and goals, but that you want to feel like you’re supporting each other instead of competing.
Steer clear of one-upmanship.
If you’ve dealt with competition in your friendships, you’ve probably noticed just how easy it is to get caught up in one-upmanship (or one-upwomanship). Breaking this cycle in a healthy way isn’t always straightforward, but focusing on the ways you can practically support and encourage one another can help. Agree to keep the conversation going and to gently point out when one of you is becoming overly competitive (e.g., “We both want the best for each other. How can we team up and support each other in this?”). It’s a lot harder to get caught up in competitiveness when you prioritize support and connection.
It can also help to create boundaries about the kinds of topics you discuss or activities you do together. This can be especially helpful (and necessary) if you feel like you’re competing for a limited resource, like a job, spot on an extracurricular team, or even a potential romantic partner. If there are specific places or settings where one of you tends to be overly competitive (e.g., in class, at the gym, in a group of friends) or conversations that invariably set one of you off, you might want to consider adjusting the terms of your friendship, at least temporarily. Talking about your triggers together will help you stay close even if you decide to set limits. And making sure you find other new ways to bond will ensure that you don’t let the boundaries create too much of a distance.
At the end of the day, the only thing we have control over is our own behavior. And if nothing changes, then the best thing to do is to channel it. That is, compete with yourself! Recognize that your abilities and strengths are constantly growing and evolving. Push yourself not for the sake of winning a competition but to move you closer to the person you want to be and the life you want to live. And just like we are evolving, so too are our friendships. They are dynamic, and our interactions and ways of relating to each other can change. The good news is that if competition increased over time, it can just as likely turn into something a little more manageable.