The 3COze process helps team members understand their styles and needs and the impact they have on your ability to collaborate effectively. We use the Birkman Method® as our tool in this process. This is the fifth in a series where I help you look in the mirror using some of the insights that come through the Birkman®. But don’t worry; you’ll get the benefit even if you haven’t used the tool.

How Competitive Are You?

Are you the type of person who turns run-of-the-mill situations into contests? Do you relish the chance to go one better than your teammates? Do you see the smallest opportunity as a chance to prove your prowess? Do you contribute to your team by ensuring you win your own race?


Are you more of a collaborator seeing most situations as opportunities where “two heads are better than one?” Do you contribute to your team by brainstorming and building off of your teammate’s contributions?

Either way, your basic motivations to either “me” or “we” have a profound impact on your work in teams.

I first noticed my own style in this area many years ago, when buying a car. My dad, who viewed the negotiation process as a game, was reveling in making low ball bids and walking out of dealerships after each unsatisfactory offer. I was mortified and just wanted to run to the local Saturn dealership for the “no dicker sticker.” That was my low advantage style shining through.

How do you react to competitive situations? When you need to negotiate or drive a hard bargain, do your eyes light up as you roll up your sleeves to do battle? Or, do you shy away from competitive situations and trust that things will work out in the end? If you’re like me, you don’t even mind paying a little extra for the car to avoid the highly aversive negotiation process.

Look at the top section of the table and see if you recognize your behavior as more competitive or more cooperative. Think about how your style impacts your ability to influence others, your success in securing important resources, and the likelihood that you are recognized for your contributions?


Table summarizing competitive versus collaborative tendencies

It is important that you are aware of your own competitiveness (or lack thereof) and how it manifests at work. If you are too competitive, you risk alienating your teammates who can’t figure out why you’re always treating them like the enemy. If you’re too passive and trusting, you come off as naïve and risk being taken advantage of. As with any personal style, there are advantages to being able to flex to the needs of the situation—showing your inner Hulk when there is something worth fighting for while leading the chorus of Kumbaya when team unity is more appropriate.

Can you think of a recent situation where your approach was either too competitive or not competitive enough?

Getting Your Needs Met

Now take a look at the expectations part of the table. Which side is more like you? Do you need to win together in a trusting environment without rivalry? Or, do you need the chance to be rewarded for your personal contribution with a spotlight and tangible incentives? Again, neither is right nor wrong.

Understanding what you need to be at your best will help you find situations and environments that are suited to you. If you need personal recognition, you might be better suited to jobs where your performance is measured and rewarded individually (think sales and professional services). If you hate the idea of the individual spotlight and would rather win as a team, seek out roles where there is collaboration and shared accountability (think service or corporate functions). If you find yourself in a situation that isn’t ideal, be sure to communicate your preferences to your manager and your teammates.

Remember, it’s possible to behave in one way and need the opposite. If you behave competitively but need teamwork and trust (or if you behave cooperatively but need individual recognition) you are going to be an enigma to your boss and your teammates. Share your expectations or they will go unmet.

How to Advocate for Yourself (Competitive Types)

“I really need to know how I personally am doing. Most of our measures are based on the team. Could you periodically provide me with specific feedback about my contribution?”

“It’s stressful for me when I don’t understand the rules of the game. I want to push right to the edge so it’s important that I understand the boundaries.”

How to Advocate for Yourself (Cooperative Types)

“It’s really important to me that I’m doing meaningful work and making a difference.”

“I need help dealing with situations where I have to compete or negotiate. Can I ask for your coaching and support when I’m being a bit idealistic?”

It’s valuable to look in the mirror sometimes and to see who you are and how you show up on your team. This is just one dimension that you need to understand about yourself, I’ll share more throughout the series.

[Just for fun, here’s a little more on the history of the song Kumbaya. It’s much-maligned now as the short-hard for hypocritic or contrived team spirit, but it has a storied history that dates back to the early 20th century into the Creole language of Gullah, spoken by American slaves. Very cool.]


For more information on the Birkman Method® check out their website here.

See Other Posts in the Series

What does respect mean to me?

Do I need to fit in?

How much is enough structure?

How assertive are you?

Are you competing when you should be cooperating?

Are you the tortoise or the hare?

Where do you get your self-esteem?


Further Reading

Tension is a Good Thing

Do One Uncomfortable Thing

Do You Expect Too Little of your Team?