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The Ethic of Good Competition, Not Antagonism Published: Sunday, May 13, 2001 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Yes, competition or antagonism? This is a very interesting organizational and team development question. The answer deserves research and reflection. One can distinguish between these two conditions when you are sizing up the competition and figuring out how to inspire your team. The same goes with the question of which is the better strategy: cooperation or competition? This is a tricky challenge.

People are motivated through cooperation or competition, and both have the potential of adding value to a team`s work. Cooperation supports synergy while competition fosters invention and choice. They both can be useful dynamics in group and team relationships. The trouble is when we become seduced by an either-or dichotomy, thinking of cooperation and competition as mutually exclusive. It is politically correct these days to deem competition as negative or destructive and cooperation as positive and constructive. Our researched claim is that neither of the two dynamics can exist without the other.

How is it that conventional thinking has come to interpret competition in negativity and controversy? The answer is relatively simple. People are sometimes proned to mislabeling certain types of behavior as competitive when in reality they are not. In fact, there are certain types of behavior that are actually antagonistic or hostile, a term or description which needs to be distinguished from competitive. Failing to make a qualitative distinction between these two types of behaviors can have an inadequate impact on the performance and spirit of team members.

World class competitors, both individuals and organizations, think of the word competitive as meaning striving together with others. One likely source of this specific usage is the latin “competere”, which means to strive together. Somewhere in the development of the general usage of the word it has taken on a meaning closer to striving to eliminate. This is a kind of terminator syndrome, speaking of competitors with disdain, sarcasm, contempt, and cynicism. Such a behavior demonstrates antagonism, not competition as it occurs in the true spirit of sports.

As some behavior researchers have established, antagonism is incapable of producing the kind of sustainable, high performance actually needed to compete successfully in the marketplace. After all as Akido Morita and Jack Welch have instructed, if you totally destroy your competitors you may be harming the industry.

Even though it is perfectly normal to have some antagonistic moments, it is dangerous to have hostile as a core and permanent organizational value. People tend to move away from those settings, eventually, even in the industry of cosmetic professional wrestling.

Competitors with organizational, team or universal wisdom, respect, revere, admire and honor sophisticated competition. This is the ethic of the Olympics. We have tested it. It is a robust foundation for any organization.


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