What To Do When A Colleague Is Always Trying To Show You Up

It’s important to celebrate your colleagues for their successes. Their wins are your wins, after all. But sometimes, hearing about a co-worker’s successes can be draining—especially if you feel that your career has hit a rough patch. If your colleague is always detailing their win column and you feel like you’ve been watching from the sidelines, here are some tips to help get you back in the game.

Reassess the situation.

One client I worked with felt defeated every time he went into the department status meeting; each week, my client’s colleague would use that time to catalog all of his wins for the week. The colleague had quite a few successes; my client couldn’t help but feel like he was being shown up and squeezed out. Together, we discussed how even though my client felt diminished by his colleague’s boasting, higher-ups may have had a different perspective. I asked my client to consider: why might this colleague feel they needed extra wins? Where could my client genuinely celebrate their colleague’s wins? With this reframe, my client was able to assume positive intent on behalf of his colleague. More importantly, he became more aware of what he could and could not control in the face of the colleague’s seeming braggadocio; thus, my client was able to leave behind some of his stress over the situation.

Celebrate and share your wins.

Many of us were taught not to brag and demand special attention; thus, we gloss over or diminish our wins. However, I invite clients to take the opposite approach and share their wins.

My client who was irked by his colleague’s public “win listing” began cataloging his own wins so he’d have them ready to share with his manager in their private meetings. Unfortunately, good work doesn’t always speak for itself; it was important for my client to have a record of his triumphs. Get into the practice of sharing one win in key conversations—even if it’s uncomfortable at first.

Have a success plan.

One reason my client felt out of sorts was that he didn’t have a success plan; hearing about his colleague’s wins highlighted the fact that he hadn’t taken steps to move forward with his work. After recognizing this, my client began making time in his schedule to work on the critical items that would move him forward toward his goals. This was not about competing with his colleague; rather, my client’s colleague helped to inadvertently push him forward. Once my client narrowed in on his challenging and long-term objectives, he felt empowered to move forward more confidently.

Don’t ruminate.

After hearing about his colleague’s wins, my client would ruminate and negatively compare himself. Together, we helped him break that negative thought spiral. It may feel uncomfortable to listen to a colleague who seems intent on showing you up; however, you can mentally congratulate them and move on. My client and I decided that he was allowed to ruminate for fifteen minutes after meetings; then he had to re-focus on his work and what he could control.

Consider: what could I learn from this person?

My client and I examined the question: what could he learn from his braggadocious colleague? When studying his colleague’s working style and successes, my client realized he’d have more success by creating a detailed schedule for each day so he wasn’t wasting time on non-essential tasks. My client also began to utilize time-blocking and focused on one project at a time. He began to identify his most important and vital projects. Ultimately, my client discovered he was being “too nice”—taking every meeting requested of him and helping others with their work issues. This was detracting from my client’s ability to work on his must crucial, time-sensitive projects.

Recognize the season you’re in.

Everyone’s career has ups and down. My client and I discussed how he couldn’t judge himself—he and the colleague may have simply been at different points in their career journeys. My client recognized he was in a “career trough”—that’s why the colleague’s successes were hitting him harder. Also, my client had other priorities to tend to—he was in a season where family matters frequently sidelined him.

We all go through different seasons; don’t judge yourself for being in a different season than your co-workers. As my client and I discussed, there would be other points in his career when he could focus on some of the highly visible projects that weren’t available to him in that moment.

While no one likes to feel shown up at work, focus on what you can control and how you can move forward in your career (even when it feels like you’re falling behind). Celebrate your wins, learn from your colleagues, and double down on what’s most important.