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Please note: I looked at previous questions before posting this, the situation described here is dissimilar because I am not the competitive one.

Background to question: I am very new to my team (3 months), and I have a senior team member who has been here for 3 years. I have certain technical skills that my senior team member does not.

The situation: This team member has always been, and continues to be, very competitive with me, to the point that this team member tries to "mimic" any project I am working on. So if I say during standup that I am working on A, team member will report next week that he is now working on A, and has made lots of progress on it.

If I say I am working with Person B from another team, team member will create some project to start working with Person B. This team member acts like he doesn't want me to make friends in the company, to which my response is why?

Another example of competitiveness is not looping me into discussions that are relevant to my projects. He is very secretive about what he himself is doing, which I don't care about in general, but I need to know if he's is working towards the same things as I am so that we can either 1) work together, or 2) have one person do it.

We both report to the same manager, who has less friends and less political clout in the company than this team member, so he is pushed around by this team member's aggressive behavior.

I feel I am too new to complain about the senior team member in explicit terms to our manager because I am very new. But the team member's behavior creates confusion on what steps have been completed towards my project, so essentially I am doing useless or duplicate work.

Note that I do ask this team member what he is doing regarding A, and have requested that he loop me into progress on things that overlap with me, and while he is receptive on this and very professional, his actions remain the same.

Question: how do I navigate co-working with a competitive, senior team member in a professional manner?

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You bring a very difficult situation. There are a number of things to do, but most depend specifically on the people and the dynamics of peers related to those people. That being said, I'll list a few knowing that not all will fit, but that some may.

Issues:

  • The other team member has some self esteem issues and since they are focused towards you there is likely attributes/abilities that you possess which intimidate and make the other team member feel insecure and jealous
  • You manager is not a strong one either because of his/her own ineffectiveness or because of the dynamics of the other managers. However, there are things the other team member is better at than the manager in relation to the other parties and peers otherwise they wouldn't carry weight with them...what are those things?
  • You have not earned the trust and respect of the team member/manager and other peers yet. This is natural when you are first starting, but it is important when handling interpersonal situations in the work place.

Solutions:

  • Bring the other team member and the manager together to discuss the situation. Be sure to have a number of praise worthy things about the other team member to share with him/her and the manager and be a little extra praising prior to the mention of the difficulties. This might sound like flattery, but the other person has some self esteem issues coming out in work, so you are more "cushioning" them for constructive criticism, be sure the praise is genuine or it is just flattery and manipulation. (i.e. I really admire how team member does x, but I seem to not be in sync with them despite efforts and I want to work towards a better syncing method which I thought the manager knowing both of us could help with [praises team member, works towards solution, gives deference to the manager who should be in charge of the situation])
  • Work fervently to earn the trust and respect of everyone other than that team member with your peers and managers including the other managers. This puts you on a level where your complaints register more valid emotionally just for the weight in their eyes you carry. Do this by "investing" in the things that matter to the other people as well as investing in them personally in relation to these things. This could be a whole topic on itself, so if you want details here ask another question on how to invest in peers and managers in their endeavors to better ingratiate oneself with their peers and superiors.
  • Learn to work with and around this team member so that even when they try to do things behind your back you can nicely and professionally not be taken by surprise or left out of the loop. This is admittedly the harder approach but also the most fool proof. If you accomplish this then the other team member literally can't do anything against you "professionally" and would have to resort to actual slander/sabotage or other unprofessional methods that would mare their own work relationships and standards. I would hope people will not stoop that low. If they do though, then there is evidence against them which is viable according to law/policy in which case management has to respond/act.
  • Regardless of the above document the slights you are perceiving in detail and review the timeframe/specifics/patterns etc... this will not only make you fully aware and fully processing through the situation, but also will reveal the possible motives of the other person. If you know the motives you have a much better chance of meeting that person where they are even if they won't openly admit the motives to you. If you can meet them where they are then you might be able to win over the other team member as a friend instead of having them constantly competing with you.

P.S. As mentioned this is general with the general information provided. Interpersonal relationships and dynamics in the work place are very personal and as such each individual changes things. The goal should be bringing the two people together in a way they both work better and promote the good of the team dynamics and the company as a whole...there is rarely a single solution approach.

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I have been in an almost similar situation in which you are right now.

The first steps towards overcoming this is to understand WHY is he acting like that? From physiology point of view, people act the way you described often because they have been ignored in their family during childhood and adolescent (example due to their birth order), or they have been ignored and put in an inferior position in their society due to some reasons. (example their sexual preference is different from most people)

Solution: First of all Do NOT share about your difficulties yet with anyone especially with your manger and your colleague himself. Instead, act the smart way! Make him feel like the lord of all creations.

Every time you want to kick start something ask for his opinion, and tell him you should know better since you are the senior in this team.

Every time you come up with a new idea or an algorithm get his opinion first prior to implementing it.
Basically, make him feel like an indispensable part of the team. After few weeks or even days you start realizing he is getting softer and softer and the battle is finally over!

Remember, Attention is what he needs right now, and you should give it to him!

  • I agree with you that he is acting out of insecurity. But I wish there was some way for me to convey to him that I want him to mentor me and not compete with me. Him competing with me is inappropriate because he's three years senior. Thanks for the thoughtful response. – user66700 Mar 27 '17 at 2:35

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