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How to Win Gracefully at Work

When I was in college, I worked at a restaurant that used a tip-share model for pooling table tips. We were paid something like $8 an hour (pretty decent for the restaurant industry) in addition to a portion of the daily tips pot based on how many hours we worked. The money always ended being up pretty good, and many of us joked that the set-up was a lot like “restaurant socialism.” But some individuals griped about the inevitable few bad apples who didn’t hustle as hard as the rest of us for their fair share.
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I’m no longer waiting tables, but my time in the pizza world did teach me quite a bit about working as part of team, and the many things that can happen when you start to outperform (or fall behind) your coworkers. If you’ve ever been in a meritocratic work environment, or worked for a company that encourages competition between employees, you might have noticed your coworkers are undermining your success. Studies show that when working in competitive environments, employees are far more likely to speak ill of high performers — even if it isn’t exactly warranted. Thanks to the rise of “crush it” culture, the need to perform at work is higher than ever. And for those who float to the front of the pack, rewards can be great. But you know what they say: it’s lonely at the top.

There’s something to be said for knocking it out of the park and having your efforts get noticed. If you’re pulling in big wins at work, why shouldn’t your success be celebrated? But if you find that some of your coworkers aren’t as thrilled about your over-achievement, it could be that they’re resentful of you raising the bar. To avoid some of the passive aggression that comes with winning, consider these tips for how to win gracefully at work.

1. Foster Collaboration.

There’s a reason collaboration has endured for so long. In reality, the old adage, “a rising tide raises all boats,” makes a lot of sense. When when we raise the performance of the whole, the impact is greater than it would be were we to focus all our efforts on one individual’s performance. And face it: winning alone can be pretty lonely. To avoid being the only person progressing, look for opportunities to partner up and pull in big wins alongside your coworkers. Seek out someone with skills that are complementary to your own, and see if there’s a new niche you can conquer together.

Why foster collaboration? For one thing, a rising tide raises all boats.Click To Tweet

2. Stay Humble.

There’s nothing more annoying than someone consumed by their own glory. Even if you’re killing it on the daily, there’s a good chance you’ll have an off-day, or fall from grace at some point. Help the blow hurt a little less by keeping your ego in check. Remember that just because you’re doing well, it doesn’t mean you’re the model for everyone else’s performance. Recognize that success comes in different forms, and that what works for you might not work for everyone. Make yourself available for assistance, but let others come to you for advice and direction.

3. We > Me

Your powerhouse nature is nothing to apologize for, but recognize that you’re winning on behalf of your organization. Your coworkers will be more likely to celebrate your success if they see that it’s pushing the entire company forward, and not just furthering your own agenda. Look for opportunities to help the company win, even if that means stepping back or staying quiet from time to time.

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4. Recognize Your Colleagues

If you want to feel good about your own accomplishments, share the wealth and celebrate others’, too. Odds are, you know how good it feels to be recognized, so spend some time building goodwill among your coworkers by recognizing the wins of other people on your team. Send a note to the team lead win a coworker has a big win, give them a shout-out in the group huddle, or offer a face-to-face congrats. This might help people see you as not just a winner, but a leader who wants to support others, too.

5. Keep Setting Goals

Part of winning gracefully at work means resisting the urge to get complacent. To ensure you don’t start resting on your laurels, keep setting goals for yourself. Finding new ways to win will give you something new to chase, and keeps your brain tuned into progress and possibility.

6. Share the Wealth

Got a productivity hack that changed everything for you? Is there a sales book that helped you step up your game? Is there a weekly newsletter that always gets you thinking? If you think you’ve cracked the code on how to perform and generate new ideas, share your secrets. It’ll help you avoid having a target on your back, and shows the rest of your team that you’re in it for everyone, and not just yourself.

Tell Us What You Think

What tips would you add to this list? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Megan Shepherd
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