Unhealthy Competition in The Workplace & How Introverts Can Cope - The Petite Introvert

Unhealthy Competition in The Workplace & How Introverts Can Cope

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Last summer, I traveled to Virginia for a hospital pharmacy internship.

I was so excited (& nervous) to meet my co-interns, and I knew we’d be working closely with each other the entire internship–one of them was even going to be my roommate!

Looking back, I still believe they’re good people. But last summer, I was reminded of how competition can bring out the worst in others.

The internship only had four open spots, so naturally, it was a competitive environment to begin with. We all came from top pharmacy colleges and were leaders at our campuses. I saw this as common ground, but making lasting friendships was definitely not on their minds.

Consequently, I spent the entire summer working in a toxic environment. I experienced all the different ways coworkers can undermine introverts like me. Thankfully, I found other ways to cope and come out of the internship stronger, but it wasn’t easy.

I’m not writing this to warn you or make you feel fearful of competition in the workplace. As we see in organized sports, healthy competition is possible. However, unhealthy competition is alive and well in many workplace environments, and we do no one good by ignoring it.

How unhealthy competition impacts introverts

It’s hard for introverts to open up about unhealthy competition. We’ll end up hearing, “Maybe it’s all in your head,” and often it’s not. As a result, we learn to keep it to ourselves in the name of professionalism.

Introverts may experience unhealthy competition, aiming to target their introverted tendencies. Certainly, it’s unfair and unprofessional, but it happens to the best of us.

It’s important to notice these actions as red flags. Above all, you’re not the sum of how people see and treat you.

Acknowledge what’s happening and practice separating yourself from the situation. Therefore, giving yourself time and space to breathe.

Remember that how others treat you has nothing to do with you. Rather, their actions are just a reflection of their own deep-seated insecurities and fears.

With these tools in mind, you’ll be able to focus on your personal goals and come out of an ugly situation stronger.

1. Keeping Us Out of The Conversation

“Don’t proceed to underestimate me just because I’m not dominating the conversation.”

— Rachel Ginder

Introverts tend to be quiet during conversations, especially at work. Most work conversations barely touch the surface and don’t dig deep enough for introverts to be genuinely interested. So when introverts finally find common ground, we get excited.

Some notice our excitement and give us the time to say what’s on our minds. Others don’t, and the conversation abruptly changes. This is just a part of everyday life for introverts. We usually learn to shrug our shoulders and remind ourselves we didn’t want to talk anyway.

But competing with your coworkers is a whole different ballpark. Your coworkers may notice that you take longer to process the conversation and see it as a weakness. They might even use it to their advantage. Some common methods used to keep people out of the conversation include speaking faster, talking louder, or even trying to speak on that person’s behalf.

'Don't proceed to underestimate me just because I'm not dominating the conversation. - Rachel Ginder'Click To Tweet

How to Cope:

  • Take your time and focus on the point you want to make–don’t let anyone make you rush this process
  • If you’re in a meeting, raise your hand–your coworkers may ignore you/talk over you but your boss won’t
  • Focus on your Introvert strengths, including personal connection: if you have a great idea/strong opinion but hate speaking in big groups, plan a one-on-one meeting with your boss or the project manager
  • If your coworker speaks over you or on your behalf, stay calm & collected–if there’s one thing you can control, it’s your reaction to their unacceptable behavior

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2. Dismissing Our Opinions or Ideas

“There is no one more courageous than the person who speaks with the courage of his convictions.”

— Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

During work meetings or conversations, introverts often don’t speak up. When we finally get the courage to speak up, it’s usually because we’ve thought about it and are confident in our opinions or ideas. Coworkers can feel threatened by this confidence. Often because they don’t expect it. In order to feel superior again, they might dismiss what you say.

For example, last summer I worked with one co-intern on a research project. At the beginning of the project, we needed to brainstorm an efficient way to approach data collection. Whenever we had a chance to talk, I explained which data I thought was important and why. Then I would ask him what he thought. Every time I asked, he would walk faster to get in front of me and repeatedly say, “It doesn’t matter.” He completely dismissed my opinions.

This is an unfair way to compete with others and the perfect example of unhealthy competition. Everyone deserves a chance to contribute, and your coworkers should respect your opinion.

'There is no one more courageous than the person who speaks with the courage of his convictions. - Susan Cain'Click To Tweet

How to Cope:

  • Remember that your opinion is valid whether or not it’s accepted
  • Give yourself permission to speak with conviction
  • Be honest with yourself and how being dismissed makes you feel–let those emotions take their course, but remember that your coworker’s actions are unacceptable
  • If your coworker continues to be dismissive, go directly to the one who calls the shots then share your opinion/idea

3. Isolating Us

“Fitting in and belonging are two separate things. Fitting in involves people changing themselves in order to be accepted. Belonging allows people to be accepted as they are.”

— Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection (A 30-Minute Instaread Summary)

Isolation is a tough balance for introverts. We love solitude, but we hate feeling lonely just like anyone else. No matter how much we don’t want to admit it, we all crave the feeling of belonging.

If you’d like to read more on belonging, check out this book from Brené Brown. She breaks down why we’re hardwired for connection and how we can reach a sense of belonging through the power of vulnerability.

Since introverts don’t socialize much in the first place, it’s not hard to isolate us. Cliques form in the workplace just as easily as they did in high school. Although cliques aren’t always made with the purpose of excluding others, it’s often the outcome.

Whether or not exclusion is the intent, it can make introverts feel lonely and isolated. And some use exclusion as a tactic in competition with others.

'Fitting in and belonging are two separate things. Fitting in involves people changing themselves in order to be accepted. Belonging allows people to be accepted as they are. - Brené Brown'Click To Tweet

How to Cope:

  • Ask yourself, “Are they your people anyway?” For me, the answer is usually a hell no
  • Focus on your Introvert strengths, including personal connection: find a mentor or mentee
  • Remember why you’re there: Is it to earn a living? Is it to gain experience? Usually, it’s not to make friends
  • Remind yourself that cliques often don’t include higher-ups. Therefore, they have no control over what matters, such as your income and benefits

4. Gossiping About Us

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

— Henry Thomas Buckle

People love to figure other people out. Introverts can be hard to figure out because we tend to be quiet and reserved. This can lead to others making up stories and spreading rumors.

Gossiping is a nasty way to bring anyone down. I haven’t knowingly had this happen to me since college, so I try not to be paranoid about it. Usually, I can write it off as pettiness and call it a day.

For introverts, the toughest part is never getting the chance to speak up for yourself. Gossiping often creates an unsafe space, and it can be difficult to speak up for yourself without causing a scene.

'Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Henry Thomas Buckle'Click To Tweet

How to Cope:

  • Focus on your truths
  • Remember you don’t owe anyone your story
  • Be honest with yourself and how being talked about makes you feel–let those emotions take their course, but remember that your coworker’s actions are unacceptable
  • Focus on what you can change by developing and aiming for short- & long-term career goals–you can’t change your coworker’s unhealthy behaviors, but you do have the power to take charge in your career path

5. Talking Down to Us

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

— Eleanor Roosevelt

This is a common way for coworkers to undermine anyone–introverts & extroverts alike.

Talking down to anyone is unacceptable. Unfortunately, it’s another easy way for coworkers to feel superior. Some even talk down to others, unintentionally and out of habit.

It can be difficult for introverts to understand that people can say hurtful words without meaning them. Introverts usually think slowly and speak with intention. When we say something out loud, we mean it. This is especially true in a professional setting.

'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. - Eleanor Roosevelt'Click To Tweet

How to Cope:

  • Remember you deserve to be treated with respect
  • Be honest with yourself and how those hurtful words made you feel–let those emotions take their course, but remember that your coworker’s actions are unacceptable
  • Focus on tending to the healthy relationships in your life. In other words, give your time and energy to those that build you up instead of break you down
  • Don’t try to hurt them back–there’s no winning with condescending people

If any of these unacceptable behaviors get out of hand, don’t be afraid to address them with your coworker. When I’m too scared to stand up to bullies, I remind myself that I deserve to work in a healthy environment.

No one can tell you what is or is not a healthy environment. You define what a healthy environment is for you.

If you have a hard time standing up for yourself, check out my 8 steps on How to Not Be A Pushover: A Guide for Introverts. I walk you through the steps I took to create healthy boundaries while using my Introvert strengths to stand up for myself.

If you found this post on unhealthy competition in the workplace helpful, check out these related posts:

Have you experienced unhealthy competition in the workplace? It’s a conversation that Introverts don’t speak up about in fear of making a scene or calling attention to themselves. But not addressing it can be detrimental to an Introvert's happiness & motivation at work. I talk about 5 ways co-workers undermine Introverts & how we can cope.

Unhealthy Competition in The Workplace & How Introverts Can Cope


  1. August 26, 2018 / 2:10 pm

    Alexis, this post is SO well written, researched, and thought out!!! You are my soul sister — except there are actually times when I overcome my “DGAF-attitude” and desire to protect my energy, and come out of my shell to assert a POV or belief. It’s when I see others bullying, talking down to, or taking advantage of someone they perceive as vulnerable or different. It’s so easy for me to stick up for others. (It is way harder to stick up for myself.) moral of the story = if I ever see people mistreating you, I will call them OUT LIKE NOBODY’s BUSINESS!

    Mostly, always remember this: No matter how they might judge you, feel threatened by you, or try to undermine you, there’s something you have that they’ll never have and can only dream of… YOURE HOT! Haha.

    You are truly so intelligent and insightful — I don’t doubt that they feel threatened by your intelligence and personal power. I’m so mad at anyone who would ever be mean or disrespect you!!! I’ve experienced it, too, lots — but it bothers me way more that they would be mean to you!!!! I’m a sass muffin and I can be SALTY if need be, but you’re a sweet angel and deserve to be protected!

    Your writing and topic is so important. If I was still a therapist I would refer clients to your blog! You should start a discussion board/forum 🖤 LOVE YOU!

    • Alexis
      August 26, 2018 / 3:18 pm

      I am literally sobbing right now LOL I love you so much D: I wish you were the voice in my head LOLOL I’d literally be unstoppable!!!

      I’m the same way when it comes to others. I physically cannot sit on the sidelines and watch people be walked all over. Probably why I’m always isolated because people can’t handle this realness lolol but I’m totally okay with it as long as people are treated with respect!

      Honestly, your words of encouragement mean everything to me. You’re a person that isn’t afraid to be both fierce & vulnerable, and I’m sososo grateful to have you in my life <3 LOVE YOU SO MUCH. NEED TO MEET YOU ASAP.

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