How to deal with competitive co-worker

sbel's picture
Rank: Monkey | 52

Hi All

I'm posting from another industry and would like WSO to weigh in given the community's extensive experience in office politics. I am currently a medical student at a top 3 medical school with no "corporate america" work experience. I will be working in a lab next year with a fellow medical student who is very competitive and would like overall guidance in how to conduct myself. My concerns are as follows.

-We are both applying for the same fields
-Coworker/student would ask me sensitive questions that would require me to "hand over" information that gave me a competitive advantage
-IE I would initiate personal side projects with key leaders in the division. He would see me walk out of the office with said leader and try to inquire about my actions. These projects are my main competitive advantage b/c they provide me with facetime with influential individuals. This actually happened in the past 2 years ago where I told him what I was up to, only for him to replicate said idea (Fool me once, shame on me....)
-IE He inquired about who am I conducting research with. After telling him he ended up applying for the same lab that I did (perhaps this was chance but not so sure...)

Curious about how to "deflect" his nosey questions about topics that I simply don't want to talk about for concern that he will quite literally "take" my ideas. Also tried to collaborate with him in the past but he was not into a synergistic relationship...more so parasitic/competitive.

Thanks WSO!

Comments (21)

Sep 8, 2017

What he's doing isn't illegal, unethical, or even worth taking action against. Just seems like a very competitive person.

Complaining to a higher authority wont do jack since it's not exactly wrong.

I'd go all out on not divulging information at all. It seems like everything you do, write on, talk to, this guy wants in . If his eyes can't see it, or you, or know who you're talking to then aren't you good.

But jeez, what a c0ck bl0cker. I hate c0ck bl0ckers.

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Sep 8, 2017

Agreed...hate cock blockers. Thanks for the reply.

Sep 8, 2017

Sounds like a typical top med school from what i've heard. But, you're smart, you've survived so far in this environment. I think you'll be fine.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Best Response
Sep 8, 2017

I love dealing with that type of person. Just keep drip feeding them false information,; this will result in one of two things: 1. They start to believe you and cock things up all by themselves or 2. They think you are stupid in which case they will underestimate you and you can silently crush them.

Simple

(alternatively, just tie then up and put them in an old storage room until you get the position)

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Sep 8, 2017

Agreed. I would also recommend the use of "mirroring" when someone is grilling you. Take a key sentence or question in the conversation and repeat it back to them verbatim in a pleasant tone of voice. Let it hang in the air until they reply. This will usually cause them to give more information and go into greater depth. Keep mirroring (people can't help but talk) and you can get them to tip their hand without giving anything in return. Once you understand what they're after and how they're going to get it, you really run with the above poster's advice of feeding them BS.

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Sep 8, 2017

Solid

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Sep 11, 2017

Nice.

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Sep 13, 2017

Beat me to it. This.

Sep 9, 2017

Just give him garbage useless information, deflect and act foolishly.
Ask a girl friend, they are usually very experienced at that sort of "deflections" in a different context, ie when a guy they don't really fancy keeps hitting on them, trying to make plans.

Sep 9, 2017

First off - honestly, reading your post a few times, it strikes me that you might be part of the problem. I'll touch on that below.

Normally I give people the benefit of the doubt and you'll find that giving helpful advice when wanted is a good way to develop relationships and also gain useful perspective in returns.

A few notes that come to mind (all from our business perspective):
1. The 'project' comes first. Witholding information that's needed to advance your work, or that is important for them in order to conduct there work, is unacceptable and can come back to haunt you. If you're worried about them sending credit, a quite note (email or in person, whatever your dynamic is) at the end of the day outlining any accomplishments to your superior may be helpful. You can even just cc your colleague to let them know what's up rather than passing things on in person.
2. What you're doing to network or for side projects is none of their business unless you want it to be. Just don't bring it up, and if they ask what you were doing with some person or what you're doing on the side you don't have to tell them. Don't have to lie either. A simple "we were grabbing coffee" or something like that is fine.
3. Is it really a big deal that he applied to your lab and got a job? This person needs to eat too, and I don't see how this act in itself puts you at a disadvantage. I know you'd prefer not to work with them, but if I told my friend I was applying to a firm and they applied there too I'd simply wish them luck. You both got jobs. I'd get over this one.

Now - on you being part of the problem - it doesn't sound like this person has maliciously stolen work and presented it as their own or anything like that. Is this another young person trying to find out how things are done to be successful? Or do you think they're stealing from you? If it's the former and you see them as a rival - deal, and focus on doing your work well. Life's too short to fuck over someone else for a few dollars on your paycheck. If it is the latter, then focus on managing up and touching base with your superiors so that they can tell what work comes from you and doesn't come from your peer. If it turns into a bitchfest between the two of you, try to keep that out of sight of your superiors, they don't want to deal with it.

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Sep 9, 2017
  1. Is there any reason or benefit for you for him to think highly of you? 2. Is he in the position or does he have the power to in any way inflict damage/pain on you? 3. Do you value his friendship or could you care less if he was in your life?

For Q. number 1: Back when I was in a shittier job and discreetly interviewing with prestigious firms, I wouldn't divulge information to my co workers or even tell them where I was going. I didn't have passion for what I was doing and literally tripled my salary once I left. I'm not ashamed to say it, but I straight up lied on my resume when I applied to job about what my responsibilities were. Before giving my two weeks notice, my coworkers didn't think too highly of me, and so eye brows were definitely raised and questions/rumors once I told them where I was heading for my next job. To avoid suspicion or any damage to me, I started to downplay what my new salary would be, or how fancy my new job actually was. Reason being, these people literally had zero positive things that they could offer me, and besides personal pride, there was no benefit for them to be impressed by where I was going. So once I lied about what type of work I would be doing, all suspicion was gone and those people stopped bothering me. I suggest you tell this person that you're doing less interesting stuff, as there's no benefit for him to be impressed by you, if he's your peer.

For Q.2, if he's not in a position of power over you, I personally would have no issues telling him to fuck off and to mind his own business. This happens all the time in finance.

  1. If you don't value his friendship, why are you even talking to him? Keep your mouth shut. I say this in a respectful way, as this is an anonymous forum and there's no reason to care for feelings as we're just giving advice, but you kind of sound like a pushover and a pussy. Why not just man up and tell him you don't want to talk about what you are doing? He's fucked you over before.
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Sep 11, 2017

I had a co-worker like this, but instead of pushing him away I pulled him in so tight that I kept him in my cone of "Keyser" lies. Remember that old adage, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?" The closer this guy is to you, the more containable he is. You just have to get good at giving him the "mushroom treatment." (Being Biology guy you'll appreciate the reference).

"Feed him shit, and keep them in the dark."

You're always in a driver seat with people like this. Set your terms, feed him small useless bits of information (as referenced above), and watch his sails furl as he struggles to gain momentum. I also keep these guys close because "if they have a big mouth" they give great counter intelligence.

Good luck with the upcoming match Chess Master.

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Sep 12, 2017

That happens in any environment that has smart driven people. The best thing you can do is rise above it and deliver on your projects. No one will care about his/her antics after you have delivered.

Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum

Sep 12, 2017

Not sure why @GridironCEO got monkey shit, that was some pretty solid advice.

Its obvious that the other guy thinks pretty highly of you. If not, he wouldn't be trying to figure out what you are doing so that he can do it too. Therein lies your opportunity: Shatter the illusion that you have it all figured out and that your path is worth following. I'll give some personal examples.

In college I was one of the few guys who had my shit together in class, not because I'm brilliant, but because at my tiny no-name school, I was one of the few who wanted a more than a tiny no-name job. People would want to study with me, which in principle I am ok with, but only if they pull their weight and aren't only there to leech off my notes.

SO, what I did is that when people tried to leech off me for an exam, I told them I hadn't started studying yet. I'd tell them that I was planning to pull an all nighter for it. I'd tell them I needed to study for [class we didn't have in common]'s exam. I'd say I was totally fucked for this exam. Anything I needed to say. And then when the exam came, I'd do alright. But I wouldn't say how alright I did. I would scale my grade back a couple degrees if anyone asked how I did. Why? It only hurts me if my classmates know I'm doing well. Again, I'm no genius. I graduated with a 3.5. I just wasn't trying to do all the work for everyone else.

Next example was my first rotation last year. I had a co-worker who was also fresh out of college, and it seemed like his only purpose in life was to try to outshine me. He would constantly try to figure out what I was working on so that he could try to learn about it too, faster and more in-depth than me. He'd stop by my cube pretty often to ask me random questions to gauge how much I knew and how well I was picking up the job. It was obvious he didn't actually need help, but was just trying to test me. If he learned I was knowledgeable on some subject, next thing I knew, a couple hours later he'd come by to casually work into the conversation some random facts (which he had learned in the last few hours) about the subject.

So I let him "win". If I sensed that he was just asking questions to test my knowledge, I would try to appear as ignorant as possible. I let him think he was crushing it at his job much more than I was. Eventually he lost the need to one-up me because he thought he was doing so much better.

One particular example: He had been asking me all year if I had started getting this certification that was not required for our position, but would be needed if we wanted bigger responsibilities. I said no (which was true). I said I would wait til May or June to do it. He started getting certified the previous fall, and then stopped once he had a comfortable lead on me and could proudly tell people that he had started. In early April I quietly plugged away and got certified. I remember at a staff meeting when our boss asked us if we were certified, and he immediately jumped in and said "Yeah I'm about half way through". And then I said "yep, I finished last week". Man, he lost his shit. He came by my cube a couple times that day to casually mention his excuses for why he wasn't done yet, and how the whole thing was bullshit anyway.

My point through these examples: This guy is only trying to leech off of you because he thinks you have it together and are worth leeching off of. Solve this perception, solve your problem.

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Sep 12, 2017

You should take his STAPLER, and put it in JELLO. Works every time!

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Sep 14, 2017

Your safest bet is to get your mba from a top program.

Sep 16, 2017

Start kissing asses and trying to get those summer investment banking internships early.

In all seriousness, if you're innovating and people know you're the first to come up with shit, who cares if he copies you? If he does it frankly makes you look more flattering and like a leader. Whereas he more resembles a sheeple. Now depending on the decision maker in charge this could be an advantage or disadvantage. Some people like being the alpha dog and don't want anyone challenging their seat at the top of the mountain, so they like yes men :).

Sep 14, 2017

1 WORD MY FRIEND: 'FRIENDSHIP'

"If you want to go fast go alone; If you want to go far go together."

Sep 16, 2017
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Sep 16, 2017
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Gotta be damn good at it - Go Corp Dev.