Dealing with Coworkers: Are They Colleagues or Competitors?

In a typical organization, employees are separated (or self-separate) into groups with similar skills. Whether you’re crunching numbers, reaching out to customers, or designing the next big product, you’re likely working alongside people with similar skills to your own.

Businesses seek a good bit of overlap in skills. Shared proficiencies increase collaboration and help us communicate with our peers. In areas ripe with arcane terminology like marketing or I.T., shared backgrounds are an absolute necessity for proper teamwork.

Similar skills and experiences are great for camaraderie, communication, and getting things done in general. But, they can also blur the line between colleagues and competitors, especially when someone asks you this:

“Hey, you’re the only one who knows how to run that system, right? Would you mind showing me how to use it? You know… just in case you get hit by the proverbial bus…”

Some don’t give a comment like this another thought, but others might wonder if the “proverbial bus” is really a “proverbial pink slip.”

Are you dealing with coworkers who are colleagues or competitors?

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Peter is Vice President of Digital Marketing at an investment holdings company in Washington DC and Co-Founder at True North.


  1. Luna on the 20th July

    I am an administrator of a small company and I have colleagues close to my age and ability level in completely different departments (project management) that are constantly competing with me for recognition from the senior management. I am “reminded” by these competitors in front of senior staff to do something JUST when I am about to start the task or even when I am in the middle of it, just so I can appear forgetful and they can look authoritative and efficient. So even though competitors exist within the same job departments, they can also exist in different departments and it’s highly annoying!

  2. Ashley Hill on the 20th July

    I don’t really have any coworkers as I’m a freelancer, but when I was in an office space, it was always about colleagues, and working together. If there are people who want to play office politics, then usually not as much will get done, and of course it won’t be a higher quality because you’re trying to undermine others.

  3. Dominic Altier on the 20th July

    In our office we have more of a colleague type of environment. I’m mainly in web design now, on the creative side, and have really no desire to learn the coding that my colleague weaves through my artwork. We work together as a team, and I find that kind of environment to be more stimulating and productive than if I was guarding all of my ‘design secrets’ from the office.

    I think a lot of that competitive vs. colleague nature has something to do with confidence. I’m not afraid to show my colleagues my best practices, or share tips because I’m fairly confident in my abilities and therefore am not threatened by anyone in our office. That being said I’ve had a decade or so in the industry to build that confidence. When I first started out I may have been more inclined to keep my (limited amount) of knowledge to myself.

  4. Elizabeth on the 20th July

    I would never keep knowledge or skills to myself. I’m here to benefit the team. I’m not trying to undercut anyone anything. But I understand where this kind of competition comes from. When lay-offs started happening at my company, I couldn’t help but look around and think, “Who is next? How can I stand out? How can I make myself indispensible?” It’s an anxiety I deal with every day.

  5. Emarri on the 22nd July

    Great Post….something i think about everyday!

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