Professional jealousy is a real issue in the workplace. It’s often not talked about at all publicly, but it’s whispered about often. Whether in the break room, over the phone, or even via a raise of the eyebrow or funny look across the room during a meeting, it happens. Sometimes what comes across as criticism of a colleague, noting that a person is perceived as too outspoken, perhaps even thought to come across as a know it all, or just humorously referred to as an overachiever, is really a mask for what others internally feel for one of their colleagues or peers: professional envy. Far too often, we are afraid that someone else’s success or achievements somehow dampen our own or make us seem less valuable to the organization. As much as we “go along to get along” in the workplace, rarely speaking a word about this pervasive problem, it rears its ugly head and often at the surprise to its targeted victims.
Recently, I experienced something that brought this thought to the surface for me. I learned that a colleague with whom I had worked with in the past and thought I had a strong and authentic relationship with did not see me as I thought she did. In fact, I was astounded to learn she thought I was too outspoken at times, an overachiever, and I am sure there are other perceptions that are just painful for me to even begin to speak aloud. What has been interesting about this experience is that it has caused me to do some serious reflecting on how I see myself versus how others perceive me. I’m often quiet in the onset of an interaction or when first meeting someone, and that’s not because I’m thinking I’m somehow better at all or judging them. It’s because I’m a shy person (at first). I have always seen myself as generally quiet and reserved in meetings, speaking up only when I am moved by something or believe I have an idea or question that might add value to the group. My speaking out isn’t rooted in being self-centered. I feel truly passionate about the work that I do. It is my life’s purpose. Others have often said to me, “you don’t say much often, but when you do everyone listens because it’s something we all need to hear”, so to receive feedback in the opposite manner has truly been eye-opening. In fact, it’s been hurtful and difficult to work through. I’m not giving up though.
Moving past the hurt of learning that a prior colleague who I thought was a professional friend, who has always demonstrated kindness in my presence, had the opposite perceptions about me and took the opportunity to share such with others who did not know me or had not had the experience of working with me has been a challenge, but I’ve learned some great lessons:
1. Be aware of others perceptions of you. Right or wrong, it’s important to know and acknowledge if you’re being perceived in a way that’s far different than you intend so you can deal with the issue.
2. Stay focused and authentic-even if folks second guess your motives. Don’t downgrade your passion or efforts to make others feel better because in the end you will be dissatisfied with yourself.
3. Understand that people will second-guess your motives. It’s a part of life and human beings, especially adults, are inherently untrusting and become more so if they’ve had bad experiences where others have broken their trust. Remember you may be the target, but not the cause of their mistrust.
4. Accept that everyone won’t like you. Some people will not cheer for you. Some people will not be happy about your success. Some people will not want to see you succeed. That’s ok. Surround yourself with those who encourage and support you. Learn to see through those who hide their envy with wide grins and phony interactions. Everyone who is nice to you isn’t a supporter of you.
5. Keep being you, being true, and being a hope builder. We can not control others perceptions of us, but we can control our behavior and actions. Do everything you possibly can to be a good and authentic human being. Focus on showing your care for others, but take pride in being an excellent person and employee. Work hard and with deliberate intention to deliver excellence. No matter what, be the person and employee you want and need to be in order to meet your personal and professional standard.
I often wonder what would happen if we were able to remove professional jealousy from the workplace. How might organizations be more productive if its members weren’t constantly second-guessing each other’s motives? What might happen if everyone believed that there was enough success to go around for everyone to have some instead of thinking that there is a limited quantity? How many organizations have performed well below their potential because of the unwillingness to confront this ugly issue? I’m not sure of the best ways to address this problem, but I can’t help but believe that if done correctly the benefits would be immense.
I am sure I’m not the first one to experience this. The shock and hurt I felt to learn this is difficult to articulate. I’ve always wanted to simply make a difference, to give back to my community, to answer the call I believe God has placed on my life as an educator. That’s all. Nothing more and nothing less. I’m still working through this, and it hasn’t been easy, but I know I’ll come out on the other side of it a better person and a better leader because of it.
Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!