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Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 8/2019 vom 30.10.2019

Es gibt wohl kaum jemanden, der am Arbeitsplatz keinen Rivalen hat, der ihm ständig Ärger bereitet. Am besten jedoch lässt man negative Gefühle dieser Person gegenüber erst gar nicht aufkommen, sondern nutzt sie, um selbst effizienter und erfolgreicher zu sein.

Artikelbild für den Artikel "NEMESES AT WORK: GREAT RIVALS" aus der Ausgabe 8/2019 von Business Spotlight. Dieses epaper sofort kaufen oder online lesen mit der Zeitschriften-Flatrate United Kiosk NEWS.

Bildquelle: Business Spotlight, Ausgabe 8/2019

Locking horns: it has its upsides


”Do you have anemesis ?” I asked two men to whom I had just been introduced. One of them seized on my question as if he had thought I would never ask. “Yes,” he said, without any hesitation. I could almost see the face of his nemesis in his eyes. The other man was quiet for a moment, no doubt thinking ...

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”Do you have anemesis ?” I asked two men to whom I had just been introduced. One of them seized on my question as if he had thought I would never ask. “Yes,” he said, without any hesitation. I could almost see the face of his nemesis in his eyes. The other man was quiet for a moment, no doubt thinking back to everyone he had ever met before answering, “No, not really”.

For some months, I had been asking everyone with whom I came into contact the same question. I was writing a short book about the unexpected upsides of having a nemesis and had come to recognize these as representative responses. Either people’s nemeses leaped to mind with an immediacy that suggested they were never far from there in the first place — or they tried to conjure one up.

I belong firmly to the first group. As an ambitious, occasionally petty person, I have long understood that the power to motivate myself lies in an imagined competition with people who probably don’t think of me at all.

A Totaljobs survey of more than 7,000 British workers in November 2018 found that 62 per cent said they had an “office enemy”. Horrifyingly, nearly 300 people said that their nemesis clipped their toenails at work. Picking a colleague to serve as your antagonist makes your life more like a television sitcom, and less like wage slavery on the slow march towards death. And if they really are your antagonist, so much the better (so long as it is kept in check). In welcoming the rivalry, you can unlock its potential benefits, and possibly, actually win.


The termnemesis comes from Greek. It can mean “enemy”, or it can mean “the person or thing that brings about someone’s downfall”. A person’s downfall can itself also be called their “nemesis”.

ELLE HUNT is the author ofWhy Everyone Needs a Nemesis: Harnessing Pettiness for Greatness (Hodder & Stoughton, audiobook and e-book). She is a freelance features writer and journalist based in London.

I could almost see the face of his nemesis in his eyes

The power to motivate

In sport, harnessing the power of competition to improve performance is a well-known strategy. A 2014 study of long-distance runners found that those who had a rival reported significantly higher motivation than those who did not. Competing against a rival led to significantly faster times: an improvement of nearly five seconds a kilometre. Runners could be expected to run a five-kilometre race roughly 25 seconds faster if they were competing against one of their rivals than if they weren’t.

Professor Brian Uzzi, an expert on leadership and social networks at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois, says there are parallels with work and creativity. “The good kind of nemesis can really drive motivation, help you reach further, let you see the possibility to do things that you couldn’t before — things that might have been impossible.”

Moreover, says Uzzi, a nemesis is somewhat inevitable once you reach a certain level in your career. “As you progress, your reputation builds and the probability of having someone that will be a nemesis also grows — either because your success is a threat to theirs or because, as you grow in authority, people become more critical of your behaviour.”

In June, Uzzi published the results of his twoyear study of day traders, which showed not only that they tended to have a balance of friends and enemies in their professional networks, but that their performance improved when they achieved this balance. People look to be friends with their friend’s friend and the enemy of their enemy, and to oppose their friend’s enemy and their enemy’s ally. When those conditions are met, according to a framework supported by Uzzi’s study called the structuralbalance theory, a network is considered balanced — not, I note, when there are no enemies at all. It can be hard to push yourself in a vacuum; it is quite a bit easier to want to do better than the guy clipping his toenails at his desk.

A sense of control

A nemesis may even fulfil an important existential function. In 2010, researchers at the University of Kansas found that, “although superficially disagreeable”, seeing themselves as having powerful enemies allowed people to keep a sense of personal control in the face of numerous and diffuse dangers.

It’s easy to want to do better than the guy clipping his toenails

The paper’s authors also found that people tended to attribute greater power to an enemy at times when the government, law enforcement and the wider social system appeared to be chaotic and disordered. When you might feel you are losing control over your environment or destiny, an enemy “can be effectively controlled, managed or understood”.

The key thing, says Uzzi, is to keep active conflict to a minimum. Friendly competition, not properly managed, can easily turn toxic, leaving the relationship beyond repair. “The bad kind of nemesis is something you really don’t want to develop, and if it does, you want to fix that or develop an exit strategy.” But the good kind is “someone who’s going to raise your game. … They have to be people you want to compete with and do better than.”

The Totaljobs survey found that most people identified office nemeses of the same gender and the same level of seniority, or higher, as they are (see box on this page), which shows our tendency to benchmark ourselves against broadly equivalent individuals.

The enemy within

Comparing yourself with others is, of course, fraught — and against the typical advice for achieving happiness — but it can be helpful in clarifying your own ambition. My emotional response to my nemeses’ activities and achievements — usually never even voiced — is often most revealing about my own desires and insecurities. If their news makes me churn internally, I realize that it is something I want for myself, encouraging me to think about taking steps to make it happen. Equally, when it makes me feel too emotional, I have learned that it means there are probably more complicated factors at play.

Rivalry: keep it in check

Professor Barbara Louise Gray — a former director of the Center for Research in Conflict and Negotiation at Penn State University — says it is worth paying attention to people who push your buttons, as they can teach you about yourself. According to Jungian psychology, everyone has a “shadow self”, informed by our upbringing and cultural training, which we subconsciously try to keep hidden; when we have a strong emotional response to someone, we might be projecting on to them the characteristics we struggle to accept in ourselves.

Your nemesis, then, can help you learn about yourself. “Try as you might to change someone else, as most people in marriages know, that doesn’t work very well,” says Gray. “So you have to turn the light around and shine it on yourself: ‘Why does this person rub me the wrong way all the time?’” Identifying traits you are intolerant of in others may show those you work to hide in yourself, says Gray.

Learning to accept our shadow selves as they are reflected in other people can be a humbling experience, one that can make us more confident and effective in our relationships and happier in ourselves. Gray says that it is important to be aware of your behaviour and of any patterns in the things that provoke you in others. “The key for an individual is to know when their buttons are pushed, and when it evokes a really strong reaction in them — that’s the time to say: ‘OK, I have a nemesis operating in here that I probably ought to meet.’”

© Guardian News & Media 2019

Bad behaviour

Nearly 60 per cent of UK workers identified “bending the truth to make [oneself] look good” and “commenting on others’ work performance” as the two most disliked behaviours in the office.

Men and women are disliked in the workplace for slightly different bad behaviours. Men become “work enemies” by behaving in ways that are “not suitable for work” (NSFW), such as making inappropriate jokes, mocking others and swearing. Women create enemies by talking about others, ostracizing colleagues and sharing too much about their personal lives.

Source: Totaljobs (www.totaljobs .com/insidejob/work-enemies )

Know your enemy

Most UK workers say they have at least one nemesis at work. In fact, they are three times more likely to develop a rift with a colleague than a bond.

How many enemies do you have at work?

48% Just one enemy

43% More than one enemy

8% Most of my colleagues

At what level are your enemies?

27% At my level

25% Senior to me

7% Junior to me

Source: Totaljobs (www.totaljobs.com/insidejob/work-enemies )

Fotos: Johannes Gerhardus Swanepoel/iStock.com; D. Levene/The Guardian

Fotos: iStockphoto/iStock.com