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When You and a Co-Worker Are Vying for the Same Promotion -- and Things Get Ugly

By Maurie Backman - Oct 26, 2019 at 10:04AM

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It's a tough situation. Here's how to handle it.

There will likely come a point in your career when you're tired of doing the same job, and as such, will aim to position yourself for a promotion. You can do so in a number of ways -- by taking on new projects, excelling at existing assignments, and having a positive attitude, in general.

But what happens when it becomes clear that you and a colleague are competing for the exact same opening at your company, only your co-worker doesn't seem to be playing fair? Here's how to handle this tricky but manageable situation.

1. Make an effort to keep the peace

It's hard to coexist with a co-worker who will clearly stop at nothing to prove that he or she is the better candidate for the promotion at hand. Still, it's important to maintain some semblance of getting along because regardless of who gets picked for that opening, you'll still be officemates and possibly teammates.

Therefore, make an effort to keep things civil. Better yet, broach the topic with your colleague. Tell him or her that you'd like to continue working well together, and make it clear that if he or she is chosen over you for that promotion, you'll be the first to offer congratulations.

Two women sitting side by side at laptops giving each other dirty looks


2. Keep playing by the rules

Your colleague may be utilizing underhanded tactics to gain the edge for that promotion, like putting down your ideas during team meetings or pointing out your flaws whenever possible. But that doesn't mean you should stoop to your co-worker's level. If you continue being the bigger person, your boss is apt to take notice.

3. Enlist your colleagues' support

If the co-worker who wants the same promotion as you really is playing dirty, the people around you are likely to observe that behavior. And with any luck, they'll be just as appalled by it as you are.

It pays to get people in your corner who will vouch for the fact that your co-worker is being overly aggressive or out of line. That way, if your colleague accuses you of similar behavior, you'll have witnesses to vouch for the fact that that's not true.

4. Document your co-worker's inappropriate behavior

The occasional snide comment about you on your colleague's part may not be something you should rush to your boss or HR about. But if your co-worker is clearly crossing a line in an effort to get promoted over you, you'll need to report that behavior to your employer.

To this end, keep a record of the times your colleague acts poorly toward you. Write down the date, time, and details of each incident that occurs, and list the names of teammates who may have observed what happened. Then, present that information to the right people and leave it in their capable hands.

It's never easy battling it out for a promotion, but if your co-worker takes things too far, it's important to know how to react. A few strategic moves on your part could help you snag that promotion without resorting to behavior you'll wind up regretting.

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