DO PEOPLE KNOW WHO their biggest competitors are at work?
Probably not, say three organizational behavior researchers.
While most people can judge whether others view them favorably,
they might be less adept at identifying their biggest rivals.
In a recent paper, Noah Eisenkraft of the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hillary Anger Elfenbein of
Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and Shirli Kopelman
of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor examined
the concept of “dyadic meta-accuracy,” defined as how people
determine whether or not others like them.
car dealership—the researchers chose this group because car
salespeople must compete with each other for commissions.
The salespeople completed questionnaires that asked them to
rate, on a nine-point scale, how much they liked each of their
colleagues and how much they viewed each colleague as a rival.
The participants also indicated what they thought each of their
colleagues thought about them. When the researchers compared
the questionnaires, they found that the salespeople were
much more accurate at knowing who liked them than they
were at knowing who viewed them as rivals.
In a second experiment, 263 college students in a class on corporate strategy and organizational behavior were assigned
to one of 56 teams to work on a three-month project. Their
grades for the project were based entirely on group performance.
After ten weeks, the students completed questionnaires
similar to those completed by the salespeople at the
dealership. Once again, participants exhibited a faulty perception
of who their rivals were on their teams.
The research team believes this area is worthy of further
inquiry, primarily because how well people identify their rivals
can significantly impact their interactions with others in the
workplace. But their ability to identify rivals can be hindered
by the fact that those who are their biggest competitors will
tend to hide that fact to be polite. Not only that, unlike friendship,
competition requires no reciprocation, giving people one
less clue about who their rivals are.
How can companies use these findings? By promoting
friendly competition, says Elfenbein. “At the car dealership,
everybody knows they are competing against each other,” she
says. “But if you create a climate where there are boundaries
you don’t cross, you can make space for mutual healthy competition
to be rewarded.”
“We Know Who Likes Us, but Not Who Competes Against
Us: Dyadic Meta-Accuracy Among Work Colleagues” was published
online January 12 in Psychological Science.