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How to Win at Everything: The Rules of Healthy Competition

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Coping with an Overly Competitive Friend

We all know somebody who turns life into a contest. You join a gym; she hires a personal trainer. You say you're swamped at work; she claims that 13-hour days are normal for her. While you can't control your friend's behavior, you can change the way you respond to her, says Ruthellen Josselson, PhD, coauthor of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls' and Women's Friendships (Crown, 1998). Try these strategies.

  • See it as a compliment. It means she values what you've achieved, says Josselson. You may be able to tone down the rivalry by acknowledging her successes. Just say "that's great" when she tells you her 4-year-old can read (yes, even if you just said that yours mastered her ABCs).
  • Be honest with her. When a friend constantly jockeys for the top position, it can feel as though she's negating your accomplishments or dismissing your concerns -- and keeping the focus on her. Discuss it in those terms. Or you might try using humor to point out her one-upping habit. If you're talking about how you're getting good at doubles tennis and she starts bragging about her killer serve, say something like, "Okay, Serena. I'll look for you at Wimbledon."
  • Don't tolerate put-downs. Insulting you is not the same as being competitive. If your friend responds to your getting engaged by proposing to her boyfriend of two months, that's annoying (and foolish), but it's not hostile. But if she says, "You're kidding! You can't commit to a hair color, never mind a marriage," it may be time to rethink the friendship.

Originally published in Fitness magazine, January 2006.


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