Rivalry often has negative connotations, but according to NYU Professor Gavin Kilduff, having a competitor isn’t always a bad thing. The topic is Kilduff’s specialty, and as he says in this video on Digg, it’s not about competitors hating each other. Instead, people should think about rivalry as a way of being linked to another person.

Rivalry Isn't All Bad. In Fact, It Usually Makes You Better
It's easy to think of rivalry as violence, bitterness or anger. In reality, it's a complicated relationship that is oftentimes mutually beneficial.

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“Rivalry can push people to new heights of performance and motivation,” he says in the video, explaining how it can be a powerful motivator to perform your best. He shares that in a study of long distance runners, those who faced a rival in the race performed what is the equivalent of 25 seconds faster in a 5k race.

Of course, competition also comes with a dark side, which Kilduff acknowledges in an interview with Strategy +Business.

“Unethical behavior—in the form of cheating or unsportsmanlike conduct, for instance—increases when people are competing against their rivals,” he says. “People seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to get an advantage in those situations.”

Outside of sports, rivalry can be used in the workplace too. The professor tells Strategy + Business that it works well when people’s baseline motivations are low and employer want to foster a little competition between employees. However, he notes that this works best in certain professions, like telemarketing and sales. He cautions that it can be dangerous to use for other fields.

“If you’re an investment banker with a long leash to do what you want, you may have a lot of discretion to take risks or to engage in somewhat shady tactics that could be inadvertently promoted by rivalry,” he says. “So that might be a more dangerous environment for rivalry to exist in.”

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To hear Kilduff speak more about his research on rivalry, and how it can be a good thing, check out his video on Digg.

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