Competition vs Collaboration

September 20, 2011

Public relations

If you ever get this look when you're trying to be competitive, it might be wise to zippah your lippah. (Image credit:


Remember those group projects we had to do in college. It was always a group of four. You, one classmate who was fairly reliable, one who thought that everything she said turned to gold, and some dude who signed up for the class specifically because he knew the final was a group project and he knew he’d get put in a group that wouldn’t let him fail.

Ah, those were the days! For me, they were the days I cursed under my breath at my teacher. But our professors who made us deal with the awkward team dynamic had a method to their madness. Or more likely, they were dealing with these team situations on a daily basis in their jobs and figured it might be kind of important for us to get the hang of it before we entered the working world.

#pr20chat and #prstudchat combined forces Tuesday night to talk about “Being your own best publicist in the workplace.” There was a lot of interesting discussion across the board on a variety of different topics. But the question that stood out to me was: When is it better to collaborate and when should you be prepared to compete?

I’m pretty sure when Professor Linton put us in groups at the beginning of our media management grad school project at Northwestern, it was to make sure we could answer a question like that one. Because I saw a little bit of everything in that class and the first impressions I took from it have held true throughout my professional career.

1. The wince factor. Have you ever winced for someone because they were trying to be too competitive and made themselves look like silly in the process? You know, the “wow, I wish he would just sit down and I want to say something but that would be even more embarrassing, at least I think it would” wince. One of the best tips I’ve ever received in my professional career was to scan the room when you’re presenting/talking. If you see that wince, change direction. People who do too much chest thumping seem insecure. And your audience remembers your ego, not the content of your presentation.

2. The weakest link. It’s so easy to point out the weakest link on a project and gossip about him or her. You may even feel like pulling out your best game show host impersonation — “You are the weakest link…Goodbye!” But people who can work on teams with those who are challenging and make it work make much more of an impression than those who complain. Don’t forget, people are busy. And the work still has to get done. One of the biggest mistakes people make is passing the buck because they think it exonerates them and makes them look better. Passing the buck makes you look like you can’t work with different types of people. And that’s a problem when you’re looking to advance in your career.

3. Be competitive without being competitive. If it’s obvious you’re being competitive, then you’re doing it wrong. Compete by taking initiative and raising your hand to help out wherever you can. Compete as part of a team instead of by yourself. Compete with other companies and agencies. Not your own team. Making concessions and working together for the benefit of a group is not a sign of weakness. Smart people hire and seek out opportunities to work with people who are smarter than them. That’s how you learn.

4. Promote others, not yourself. There is something admirable about people who always go out of their way to make sure their peers are recognized. And promoting others makes them want to find opportunities to promote you too. So you’re actually raising your stock through collaboration. This is a simple case of thinking about how you would react in someone else’s shoes. Don’t we always tell our clients to do that?

So how would you answer the competition vs collaboration question? Any stories about experiences from which you’ve learned? Drop some knowledge in the comments.

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jgoldsborough Your post about the strategic planning process couldn't have came at a better time. Helpful for a class project of mine.


MichaelConley1 Awesome, glad it was helpful. Keep me posted on how the process goes for you.


jgoldsborough Will do! Know of any other helpful posts/articles?


MichaelConley1 Yes, check out this from ambercadabra


jgoldsborough Thanks for sending that post on objectives my way!