Having friends at work is great — colleagues you feel close to can provide invaluable support and understand the particulars of your workplace in a way other friends can’t. But there’s also something to be said about having work rivals — people we see as our competitors. As Adam Grant wrote in the New York Times, though “we often see them as enemies, our rivals can be our greatest allies.”

We asked our Thrive community for the most important lessons they’ve learned from their work rivals. Here are a few of our favorites:

Learn what they’re doing to succeed

“Initially, I considered work rivalry as toxic. However, I realized that was a defeatist mentality. As I began to see the positive side of having them on the team, I found out why they should be considered as rivals and what I could learn from their strengths and weaknesses. The feedback I gathered helped adopt strategies that made me more efficient and effective as a team player through the processes of creativity, innovation, and design thinking. I became more inclined to achieving personal and business goals with every team project I was involved in with them. Eventually, I gained competitive advantage.”

—Theresa R. Fianko, marketing communications, Dubai, U.A.E.

Get clarity on your own goals

“One of the biggest lessons that I learned from a work rival was to really sit back and take a moment to realize why I felt the need to compare myself to them. I’ve found that when someone triggers the emotions of competition or envy there is something within myself that I recognize where I am wanting to have that in my life as well. It’s a great way for me to look at my situation and focus on areas that I can improve upon.”

—Nicole Michalski, life strategist, author and speaker, Alberta, Canada

Don’t sweat the small stuff

“I have a good friend that started as my competitor at a high-tech sales job many years ago. I kept losing deals to her and hearing about how great she was. Once I got to know her, it was obvious that she didn’t sweat the small stuff. She focused solely on the specific tasks that would reap the largest benefit while also keeping a sharp focus on her customer’s important goals.”

—Lisa Andria, certified life coach, Long Beach, CA

“There’s always enough business for the good ones.”

“As a real estate agent, I’ve witnessed a lot of competition and professional jealousy. A wise mentor (and competitor) once told me ‘there’s always enough business for the good ones.’ It proved to be true, even during the real estate slump of 2008. Her guidance encouraged me to continue to take educational courses, stay informed, and build my client list through authentic personal relationships. As long as you stay at the top of your own game, you’ll continue to thrive.”

—Sandy Peckinpah, real estate agent, Southern CA

Find a mutual interest and join forces

“Find a specific sweet spot of mutual interest. Then suggest a joint action that can benefit you both. Also note that such a joint action among unexpected allies (like you two) will boost both your personal credibility and make you seem more interesting. Hint: A mutuality mindset can spur alliances with more kinds of potential allies.”

—Kare Anderson, connective behavior and quotability speaker/author, Sausalito, CA

Get feedback from your rival

“I once had a colleague who seemed to disagree with everything I proposed. I was not impressed with most of his ideas either. There we were, equals, and both highly valued within our organization. One day I realized that bringing ideas to him was an excellent way of gaining clarity and traction. We both appealed to different stakeholder groups. If I brought him an idea and he hated it, it meant ‘my people’ would probably love it. That ’negative’ feedback became some of the most useful guidance I received, and it pushed me to do an even better job.”

—Margaret Meloni, Ph.D., author, Long Beach, CA

Protect yourself from toxicity

“Throughout my career I have interacted with many different personality types. Along the way, I have developed relationships with a lot of good people. But, I have also encountered very toxic personalities. At times, the ‘bad vibes’ can derail a project or even cause unnecessary drama within the workplace. I have learned how to protect my space. By minimizing interactions with toxic personalities, I have increased my productivity and remained focused on my career. I developed personal workplace values to protect my space. They are: Show compassion, always be kind, value integrity, and stay focused.”

—Jennifer Williams, employee communications manager, Detroit, MI

Find value in multiple strong voices  

“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my work rivals is that there’s immense value in multiple strong voices. Competition not only pushes me to bring my ‘A’ game, but has been a big help in teaching me how to hone my emotional intelligence. Oftentimes in competitive environments, my guard goes up subconsciously; it can be very useful to pause for a moment and recognize what’s going on. By trying to understand what part of me is feeling threatened, I can pick the best way forward. Struggle can be a powerful teacher, so after stepping back I work hard to cheer on people around me, rivals and friends, knowing it’s essential to have different perspectives, voices, and contributions.”

—Sarah Stovold, marketing consultant, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Don’t forget about self-care

“Self-care helps productivity more than you think. My rival taught me that taking care of myself isn’t selfish, in fact it has helped me to be a better worker. I am not as tired or irritable once I took more time off from work for myself. I am able to assist more people when I feel fulfilled and refreshed.”

—Brandi Lewis, licensed professional counselor, Charlotte, NC

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  • Marina Khidekel

    Chief Content Officer at Thrive

    Marina leads strategy, ideation and execution of Thrive's content company-wide, including cross-platform brand partnership and content marketing campaigns, curricula, and the voice of the Thrive platform. She's the author of Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive. In her role, Marina brings Thrive's audience actionable, science-backed tips for reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well-being, and shares those insights on panels and in national outlets like NBC's TODAY. Previously, Marina held senior editorial roles at Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, where she edited award-winning health and mental health features and spearheaded the campaigns and partnerships around them.