How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Five Levels of Competitiveness
When we play games (or just compete) with others, we may adopt quite different ways of competing, ranging from quite friendly interaction to winner-takes-all, no-holds-barred aggression.
In friendly competition, such as a game of chess with a relative, players remain friendly throughout the game, which is more of a social facilitation device than a means of establishing status. Acts of friendship may be seen, such as one player warning the other that they are about to make a bad move or letting them repeat a move. Such kindness only serves to increase social bonds further.
Winners get little other than the pleasure of winning and do not taunt the other side. In fact they may well downplay their skill, attributing their success as luck. In such games, players do not mind losing. In fact they are genuinely pleased for the other side. Whatever the outcome (which may soon be forgotten), the real result is bringing the sides closer together.
In civil competition, players have respect for the other side throughout the game. Conversation is civil, if not cordial. Rules are followed carefully and any breaking of written or unwritten rules is strongly disapproved of. Players are expected to press home an advantage and this is not seen as unkindness.
Winning is enjoyed and losers will congratulate winners, even while they wish they had won. There is little bitterness even though winners enjoy the kudos of feeling superior. Losers console themselves that, even though they were beaten today, there will always be another time to level the score.
Sometimes we live in social contexts where collaboration and competition are both present.
Typically, there is strong social pressure to be civil and help others, yet there are significant times where there are winners and losers.
This is typical of many workplaces, where pay rises and promotion depend on individual performance and yet teamwork is regularly preached. It is also found in families and other social groups where power and status are important.
The nature of competition here tends to be subtle and passive-aggressive.
There are agreement and smiles on the surface while in the background traps are
laid, commitments are broken and people are carefully criticized.
Winners may smugly commiserate with losers as they enjoy the rewards and power of victory. Losers feel bitter that political skill seems to trump loyalty and hard work.
When winning becomes extremely important, such as in professional sports, competition intensifies to a fever pitch. Players train hard as winning or losing can have significant career and financial impact for them.
The other side are no longer colleagues. They are the enemy. They are reviled and depersonalized as the competition becomes a polarized 'us vs. them'. This psychological distance may be exaggerated when they are only met on the field of play. This exaggerated attitude towards competitors is often shown in public displays, in private preparation and face to face on the field of play. Intimidation is a norm and a weapon.
Winners tout loudly their achievement and may well taunt the losers. Those who are beaten slink off with their tails between their legs, bitterly promising revenge. Winners attribute their wins to skill. Losers blame bad luck, foul play and blind referees.
In extreme, competition fades and pure enmity comes to the fore. In effect or practice, you are at war.
Wars still have rules, such as those agreed in the United Nations about the treatment of prisoners and the use of weapons of mass destruction. Yet old principles of valiant, pitched fights on an agreed field of battle are long gone. War is dirtier than ever as asymmetric sides of very different size, organization and motivation fight in very different ways.
While the five levels of competitiveness described above are common, they exist on a sliding scale and degrees of difference may be seen within and between the levels. Variations may also be seen within a game, for example in an initially friendly game where a person is losing they may be tempted to use more subtle or dirty methods.
Few sides are equal and asymmetrical competition exists everywhere. In fact it is the lack of direct power that leads to innovation and the widespread use of deception. In games from cards to football, misdirecting the other player can give a sound advantage.