sore winners: let’s talk about people who get weirdly competitive at work

Some people get strongly competitive at work, and about the weirdest things.

Remember the manager who got strangely aggressive about winning what was supposed to be a friendly team-building competition? “Ethel (the boss) took it incredibly seriously,” our letter writer reported. “She got really aggressive, shouting that my team were losers and couldn’t keep up.” After Ethel’s team won, she “started waving her medal in my face, calling me a loser and laughing … It’s been months since, and the team has melded together well. But even now, Ethel will occasionally pull her medal out of her desk drawer and wave it in the air, loudly asking (so others could hear) if I remembered the time she beat us. This happens every few weeks.”

Possibly even better, someone else reported this about their own manager: “It got so bad that he flipped over a corn hole board when his team lost in the final. It was kinda satisfying to watch because that morning he told us he doesn’t associate with losers and we should all be looking for new jobs.”

Let’s discuss in the comments the ways you’ve seen people get excessively competitive at work.

{ 672 comments… read them below }

  1. Sam*

    There was a game of musical chairs at someone’s goodbye party. The guest of honour (who’d already received some generous gifts) was determined to win the cheap, silly prize. They shoved one of their colleagues out of the way so hard that she bruised her hip bones from the fall!

    1. Captain Biggs and Wedge*

      Physical games are always very risky, even if participants are grown ass adults. The director of our division tore his ligament during a similar game of musical chairs during our office new year party. Physical games were totally banned in the office after that

      1. JustaTech*

        The biotech across the street used to have a party for the local college football cup. (We would watch through the windows, yes, we were bored.)
        Then one year the indoor football game went awry and someone blew out a knee and that was the end of indoor football.

      2. Rainbow Brite*

        I’m a teacher, and I skinned my leg so badly during a game of tag with kids that I still have a massive scar (it covers half my shin) a couple of years later.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          I have a big scar on my back from the opposite side of the field, where we were playing hide-and-seek and a teacher didn’t think I was stuck and pulled me out from the hiding place.

          I was actually stuck.

        2. CatMintCat*

          Also a teacher. In 2010, I was playing a pickup game of chase with some kids at lunchtime when I felt a pop in my knee.
          Three surgeries later (the most recent in December), I have a shiny, brand new knee. I’m sure it would have happened eventually anyway, but that’s the last running around game I played with kids.

      3. Jay*

        One of my colleagues tore his hamstring during a softball game at the department picnic. “I was safe at first so it was worth it.”

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I just watched the newest episode of “Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist.” Not a spoiler, but in the episode they remind this guy of his game-winning spike at the volleyball game, and then he’s like, “Oh yeah…that’s when I broke my hip…”

      4. Coder von Frankenstein*

        I would go so far as to say that physical games are *especially* risky if participants are grown-ass adults. Children are slinging a lot less mass around, have a much shorter distance to fall, and are generally more resilient.

      5. TootsNYC*

        my brother is in the Army, and they had a sack race as part of some picnic, and he and his partner tripped, and she injured her leg so badly that she received a medical discharge. He ended her army career. “She was a good soldier, too,” he lamented.

      6. Salymander*

        I went to my sibling’s company picnic as they felt weird going alone among all the married-with-kids co-workers. Sibling worked in biotech. Those folks were suuuuper cutthroat about all games. Even standing in line for the food was a competition. Seriously, I got shoulder checked over the grilled veggie burgers. It was all hilariously brutal. All fun and games until I made the huge mistake of agreeing to play volleyball. I ended up with bruises all over my arms and legs and my leg in a cast for 3 months. Those scientists were hardcore about their friendly competition.

      1. Sam*

        I truly don’t remember! I was working for a non-profit so it would have been, like… maybe a certificate on printer paper? A $5 coffee card?

    2. Anonymanageress*

      A colleague of mine (nonathletic and in her late 50s/early 60s) broke her…ankle? I think… in a friendly tug of war competition at my last job. There went the end of “field day” type games for a bunch of adults.

      1. *daha**

        Tug of War is notorious for serious injuries and for fatalities. A search on “tug of war injuries” is instructive.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Husband’s company holiday party a few years ago. Adults in cocktail attire running around chairs like 5 year olds at a birthday party. The enthusiasm may be explained by 1) open bar, and 2) swank prizes: gift certificates to the city’s best restaurants, cash, iPads… (Dear Husband did not win, but gave a valiant effort.)

      2. YA Author*

        Adults call it “short selling” and play it on Wall Street.

        Also, they get really, really mad when they’re left without a chair.

        1. Brad Fitt*

          Yeah because the chairs cost $40k and if you’re playing you have to pay whether you get one or not. ;P

      3. allathian*

        I’ve done it at one adult party once, but never at a work function. It was a 50-person wedding, so it took a while to finish! The bride was very athletic and loved to dance, so the skirt of her wedding dress was removable. Underneath she wore a short skirt, so her late-night wedding dress looked like a little black dress, only white. The game ended with the groom sitting in the bride’s lap on the last chair. This wasn’t a matter of sore losers, but everybody agreed that the bridal couple should be the last two in the game.

  2. The Original K.*

    I worked with someone like this – they had been a college athlete and still played their sport recreationally, so they were very competitive about everything. Any time there was any kind of competitive team-building activity, no one wanted them on their team because no matter what, you were guaranteed yelling. If their team was winning, they’d yell about how much better their team was. If their team was losing, they’d yell in dismay.

    We had a big team retreat over several days and one night there was a trivia contest. No prizes, no stakes, the trivia was trivia about our employer. Their team was losing. Competitive Colleague called her manager (who was fairly new to the company, so didn’t know a lot of trivia about it) “trash” when she gave a wrong answer. “THAT’S WRONG. YOU’RE TRASH!” Their manager was like ” … I beg your pardon?” and the competitive person was like “Um, my bad, I forgot where I was.” Manager kicked her off the team, side-eyeing her the whole time (which was kind of hilarious) and we finished the game without incident.

    1. Software Engineer*

      I can’t possibly imagine going on a multi-day retreat with my coworkers. I like them and all, but I’d rather be at home with my family, instead of playing trivia games at night.

      1. The Original K.*

        Nobody really enjoyed it, to be honest. It was a global company and our team was on two different sides of the pond, so we all got together in person twice a year. Everybody was always drained at the end of it – we all liked each other fine, but a full week with nothing but each other was a lot.

        1. allathian*

          I’m basically an introvert, although a chatty one. But I do need a lot of time to myself, and what you’re describing sounds like a total nightmare. I feel like I’d need a week’s vacation all by myself to recover.

    2. Nicotene*

      Ugh, I remember a previous org sent around this article about “people who hate to lose” making the best salespeople (rather than “loving to win” as opposed to me, who “just wants to get paid”) and I totally pictured this crappy culture of amped-up corn-hole-flippers. Got out of there as quick as I could.

      1. Artemesia*

        my brother was the CEO of two enormous companies in his career — very successful, very rich and all his life has been super competitive. At my daughter’s wedding the grooms family had a bowling party after the rehearsal dinner for the families — and it was inlaws versus outlaws with top 3 winning. My brother who hadn’t bowled in years bowled a fairly low score say 125 and my daughter’s FIL put up a 175 — my brother immediately decided to bowl another line and bowled 200 — our side won — but it was hilarious that he could not let anyone be better even at a party. People like this probably do succeed in business more often than the more laid back.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, but I suspect that the less competitive folks probably enjoy life more. I avoid super-competitive people like the plague, I just can’t, and what’s more, don’t want to, deal with them. I guess I’m lucky in that I don’t have any people like your brother in my family…

      2. JustaTech*

        Oh man, I just discovered that there a bunch of those people in my company too. I just got assigned to the “Personal Development” committee and in our first meeting they said we’d be breaking into smaller groups to work on specific projects and one person said “well my team is going to win because I’m very competitive”.

        And I’m like, we’re making a new orientation packet, where is there “winning” in that? And also “please please don’t make me be on their team, I’m not that kind of person and it makes me very nervous”.

      3. Archaeopteryx*

        “Hate to Lose” types may be the most enthusiastic salespeople, but not necessarily the best. They might get so hard-sell and obsessive that they put clients off.

          1. Coder von Frankenstein*

            That’s the sort of research that I take with an ENORMOUS grain of salt. It is very, very difficult to do that kind of study correctly–I mean, how do you even determine that someone “hates to lose?” And there are a zillion confounding variables to account for.

            That isn’t to say somebody couldn’t put in the work and do the study properly. But I’d want to see reams of peer review before trusting it. Most “research” on topics like this is slipshod at best and outright mendacious at worst.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, this.

              I’m lucky in that I don’t have to deal with pushy salespeople in my job. In my private life, I just hang up without a word. I was raised to be polite on the phone, but if someone refuses to take no for an answer, I consider that an implicit permission to stop being polite.

            2. Brad Fitt*

              The disingenuous “behavioral studies” used in workplaces omg. O_o

              When I worked retail, corporate policy said we always had to put a product in the customer’s hand if we showed them were something was because of a study that said people were more likely to buy something they’d held. (The logic being people picked up 100% of the things they purchased so the stat probably translates backwards, right?)

      4. Usagi*

        This is likely because I am from Japan and not the US/UK like many people here are, but what is a corn-hole-flipper? It sounds… somewhat dirty? I Googled it and I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for.

        1. Attractive nuisance*

          Oh gosh, you’re not wrong. Cornhole is one name for beanbag toss. It seems to be a regional thing, where “cornhole” means the game in some places, but AFAIK in the US it also has a dirty meaning everywhere. Eventually you become inured to the phrase “office cornhole contest”.

          There’s a specific kind of plywood board with a hole that’s the goal, and it sounds like the guy got mad and flipped it over.

          1. Lizzo*

            Yes, I think most of the Midwest refers to it as cornhole. I had never heard of the non-dirty type of cornhole until I moved to Ohio. Maybe sometime in the past the game was played with corncobs instead of beanbags?

            1. Brad Fitt*

              (The beanbags are actually filled with dried corn kernels if you live in a Corn Town that grows excess amounts of corn.)

          2. Doctor What*

            My family is from Kentucky, I think we are born instinctively knowing how to play corn hole. We actually had a corn hole “tournament” at the last family reunion. Happily, “hate to lose” doesn’t seem to run in the family. It’s called corn hole because the bag you toss has dried corn inside.

        2. old curmudgeon*

          Yeah, there is a slang term that is definitely NSFW. In this context, though, it involves tossing small fabric bags of dried beans or corn and trying to get the bag to land in a small hole in a board that is maybe a meter square about 2 or 3 meters away from where you are standing. If you Google “beanbag toss,” you’ll probably have better luck finding the meaning that is intended.

          Basically, the sore loser went and flipped the board with the holes because he was annoyed at losing. Which I would expect from a 7-year-old, but not from an adult.

        3. Fluff*

          A wooden board with a small hole in it – you stand a distance away and try to throw in a ball or little sack. Often kids play it – like at picnics, outdoor parties. U

          Generally harmless unless someone gets so mad they throw the corn hole board around!

        4. Bob Skelton*

          Corn hole is a game played with small bags filled with beans or rice that you throw at a slanted board with a hole in it. The goal is to throw the bag into the hole.

        5. Web Crawler*

          It’s a reference to the story mentioned in the article. Cornhole is a game where you throw a bean bag into a hole in a board that’s a few feet away. The person in that story got so mad about losing that they stomped over to the cornhole board and flipped it.

          1. Quill*

            As a midwesterner, if you flip the cornhole / bags board it never looks impressive.

            Though I’ve seen a surprising number of injuries from playing bags! (Generally speaking if you wind up and hurl a beanbag while drunk you tend to overextend something, but also people are really prone to tripping over the boards.)

        6. LondonBridges*

          I believe they’re referring to the boss in the main article who flipped a corn hole board when his team lost in a corn hole final. It does sound a little dirty!

        7. Apt Nickname*

          Yes, corn hole does sound dirty. Yes, that’s what it’s really called. But an alternative name is beanbag toss.

          1. Nicotene*

            To be fair I wouldn’t be surprised if the dirty implications are part of why the game is called that … it’s big in frats IME.

          2. cacwgrl*

            In SoCal, or at least in my admittedly sort of hillbilly town, it’s also called bags. Like “wanna throw bags?”. It’s a legit invite if you get that question. Probably because at least in my family, no one is mature enough to pull off asking if people want to play cornhole.

        8. Bryan*

          Cornhole is also referred to as bags and is a lawn game where you throw small bean bags on to a sloped board with a hole in it. It’s basically just a game. The person got upset and flipped over the board that was on the ground.

        9. MoreSchnauzersPlease*

          Corn hole is a game that is popular at picnics and at the beach. Each team has a wooden board that is placed about 10-15 feet away from the other’s and faces the other team’s board. The board has several concentric circles, each containing a hole. The person playing corn hole stands in front of their opponent’s board and tosses bean bags (4, I believe) and tries to get them in one of those holes. Whomever gets the most points wins. I personally can’t stand corn hole, but my husband and kids love it!

        10. COBOL Dinosaur*

          Cornhole is a game where you throw a bean bag at a piece of wood that has a hole cut in it. The piece of wood is at an angle to the ground. Kind of like horseshoes but instead of aiming for a pole you’re trying to get the bean bag in the hole. playcornhole dot org has some pictures

        11. Kashurra*

          Corn hole is also known as bean bag toss. It’s a game where you throw a little fabric bag filled with dry beans (typically) against an angled board that has 7.5 cm – 10 cm holes drilled into it. You stand some distance away and toss the bags, gaining points depending on which hole the bag falls in.

        12. Nicotene*

          Oh gosh, I’m sorry, I was trying to reply to a comment about a boss that flipped a cornhole game after losing. It wasn’t a metaphor. Sorry if it’s dirty!!

        13. Uranus Wars*

          I will readily admit that cornhole is my favorite game to play at reunions, tailgates, picnics, etc. I even made my own custom set, but…

          Every. Single. Time. I read the word cornhole I subsequently think (in my best B&B voice) “I am Cornholio! I need TP for my Bunghole.” and resist the urge to pull my shirt up over my head.

          1. Goldenrod*

            “Every. Single. Time. I read the word cornhole I subsequently think (in my best B&B voice) “I am Cornholio! I need TP for my Bunghole.” ”

            OMG, me too! I’m glad I’m not alone. :D

    3. Observer*

      Their manager was like ” … I beg your pardon?” and the competitive person was like “Um, my bad, I forgot where I was.” Manager kicked her off the team, side-eyeing her the whole time

      Manager sounds a pretty good manager. Kept their cool, but stopped the behavior cold.

  3. Ali G*

    Mine is probably not going to be as great as others, but I love telling this story, so here it is:
    My former boss at my previous job, the one that was responsible for ousting me from my position and the company, and had just given me the only negative performance review in my 17+ year career, was responsible for allocating the staff in our department onto teams for a “team building” exercise. She was competitive and looked down on anyone that ate carbs and didn’t work out in their spare time. It was so, so obvious that she put those she saw as “winners” like herself on her own team. Not surprisingly, I ended up on what was supposed to be the losing team. One of the members of my team was wearing wingtips during an outdoor scavenger hunt – how threatening could we be?
    The scavenger hunt was a combo of low key physical challenges, following clues to the next step, answering trivia etc. Y’all would have hated it.
    Anyway, to make a long story short, we completed one of the hardest tasks on the first try, which earned us like 150 points, and since no one else was as successful, this put us on top from the beginning and we won.
    OMG the look on my boss’s face when she realized that not only did she not win, but she lost ME and the band of Merry Losers who took nothing seriously was priceless. I still recall it in low moments. I wish I would have been prepared to take a pic.

    1. LadyHouseofLove*

      Takes me back to high school. Me and my friends were all participating in a student-led play competition. One of my friends was one of the student directors. Director Friend realized that me and our other friends were being set aside as the “losers” during the auditions and she was not having it. She deliberately cast all of us in her play, which then got the highest praises on opening night, with many audience members telling faculty afterwards that my director friend got all the “best actors.”

    2. Maltypass*

      I didn’t know what wingtips were so my brain supplied it was American for arm floats you wear when swimming and I was like yep, that really is non-threatening

      1. Ali G*

        Lol! For anyone else wondering, wingtips are a type of men’s dress shoes. Not for outdoor activities.

        1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          See, now I’m imagining a dude in awesome shoes AND children’s floaties AND killer eyeliner and it makes the story even better.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I had a real laugh out of it, because we have just re-watched an old MASH episode. In “The Trial of Henry Blake”, Radar tries to make some extra money selling wingtip shoes.

    3. Smithy*

      I have to imagine part of this is always those who care about winning being far more irritated by those who don’t. I’m in a field that’s low-key pretty competitive, so has a lot of people who appear to be relaxed/go with the flow but can have some strong seething competitive streaks that I’ve seen get wild at two different places.

      The worst time was a workplace that did “competitive decorating” contests around the holidays. I was on a team that won one year, and in an effort to make the judging/winning “more fair” the next year – I was put on a team clearly expected to lose (judging would be done by popular vote and I was on a team with one of the most widely disliked people). As such, our team took a “let’s make this as fun as possible for us”, and came up with the only “funny” entry. We ended up winning as the very “pretty” entries split votes. Some of the losing team members we so upset they filed complaints with HR that our entry was religiously offensive.

      Second case was a scavenger hunt in an art museum – and our team ended up not just winning, but winning by SO much that the efforts to find a way to qualify our performance as “cheating.” Nothing close to being reported to HR…..but still.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        It’s always so much classier and more fun to win when you’re not gritting your teeth about it! Easily irritated super competitive people take all the panache out of winning even if they do win.

        My high school Knowledge Bowl team was definitely in the “scrappy underdogs having a good time” category, and our rival high school always came to process super serious and competitive. After we came third or so in the regionals, we skipped back to the bus laughing and singing “We Aren’t the Champions” while the more sourfaced team (who did win) glared at us! I wouldn’t trade them places.

        1. jaybh*

          Knowledge Bowl! That brings me back. I definitely remember some teams for which Knowledge Bowl was Very Serious Business (looking at you, Chaska). Of course, it made it that much more fun if you did happen to beat them.

        2. Free Meerkats*

          Back in high school in the early 70s, our chess team ended up short a body for a tournament. Someone I knew who was on it knew I played, so I got a phone call to ask me to join them for it. So I did, fully expecting to get my butt kicked in every game – someone actually had to show me how a chess clock worked.

          I showed up in a baby blue bib overall with a humorous t-shirt underneath, chewing a wad of gum, and playing with a yoyo when it wasn’t my turn. I so discomfited one opponent that I actually won the game! I think we ended up 3rd, but it was better for the season than forfeiting.

        3. NvB*

          Boy, do I have a Star Trek: DS9 episode for you! Sorry, my nerd is showing :) but I remember doing the same thing at some point in high school, and the winners getting mad. It’s like you’re not allowed to enjoy life too much if you lose?

          1. Can’t Stand the Smell*

            NvB, of course not! Losing is supposed to so dishearten you that you slink away and lick your wounds, while the winners party.

            I’m very not competitive, if you can’t tell lol. Unless I’m playing cards :)

    4. Dual Peppin Whiskey*

      Soooo…blame this on super sleep deprived brain at work, but when you said wingtips, I was thinking the super glittery fairy wings that you typically see on a little girl’s Halloween costume…

      And for some reason, I was imagining just this super chill, confident dude wearing them in a group of otherwise normally business-casually dressed adults, having an absolutely great time!

      Whelp, certainly non-threatening!

      1. KoiFeeder*

        To be fair, I’d be very threatened knowing that this dude was cooler than me!

        (joke. this is joke. I would admire and be impressed by a dude cool enough to do this.)

  4. Kimmy Schmidt*

    I don’t have any stories to share, but I’ve always been fascinated with the psychology behind this. Is it somehow related to the psychology of the office coffee, candy dish, and other free food??? Does anyone have any theories or explanations, serious or not?

    1. Enough*

      I suspect it goes back to prehistoric times when being the best meant survival. And like all human traits there is a large variation in what shows up in an individual.

      1. JB*

        Survival for humans and other large apes has never been tied to ‘being the best’. We’re a social species.

        1. Grapey*

          Large apes kill offspring of mates’ previous partners. Humans give their resources to their individual offspring when they die, and often complain when “society” might take some as estate tax.

          People are “social” as long as society helps their individual genes succeed (for those that choose to reproduce, anyway).

          1. MoreSchnauzersPlease*

            “Large apes kill offspring of mates’ previous partners.”

            Unfortunately, that problem doesn’t seem to be limited to apes. Seems like every time I read about a child being abused or killed the perpetrator is the mom’s boyfriend.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Yes, statistically, the person a child is most likely to be killed by is his mother’s new BF. Children are wary for good reason!

    2. Web Crawler*

      My pet theory is that it’s personal and tied directly to their self-worth. They’re a Winner who wins, not a human being who’s good at some things and not others. If they lose, they can no longer be a Winner. If it’s a team game, and their teammate isn’t as invested, that teammate is a direct threat to their self-worth and must be treated like one

      1. Anonym*

        Agree with this. I’d add varying combinations of fragile ego (as you describe) and poor self and situational awareness, not realizing the extent to which the behavior is unwelcome, inappropriate or damaging to relationships.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I have some learning disabilities and basically was terrible at school (a a social failure) my whole life. I still managed to get into a fancy college with a bunch of kids who were at the tops of their classes, etc. Until they got to Fancy College, at least.

        I am often glad that I had so much practice failing at things early in my life.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I went to a college where it seemed like everyone there was the top of their class. My best friend freshman year transferred out after one year, saying that she couldn’t stand the feeling of being just like everyone else and that she’d rather be a big fish in a worse pond than a little fish in a great pond. She was just too used to being the best and being well-know for it at her little hometown school.

          1. Cat Tree*

            We had an entry level hire in our department like this a few years ago. He was so used to getting praise for just being smart that he had a hard time adjusting to work and being at the bottom of the ladder. Even worse, he just wasn’t very good at a lot of the parts of the job. Certainly not bad, but mediocre compared to most of the others. He was used to getting a specific assignment and then don’t it, but in most jobs you have to solve problems and the things you’re figuring out don’t already have a predetermined answer that you can get “right”. I felt sympathy for him at first, but he whined. He whined like a toddler but also never did anything to improve. Naturally, he was also resistant to feedback from his direct manager and everyone else. Eventually he left for a different department and I have no idea how he’s doing but they pond is just as big as the one he left.

          2. OyHiOh*

            I went to a religious high school that was fundamentalist within its denomination and we were explicitly taught that we were better students than those poor kids who suffer through public high school. We were told that our academics were better, that we were better people (our morals, apparently), etc.

            The academics were certainly better than some public schools in some places students came from (boarding school) but not spectacular by any means. I really, really struggled with being a little fish in a big pond when I went off to state university!

            It took years – as in decades, a long bout with mental illness, and quite a lot of therapy, to get over myself. I’m not a particularly competitive person, but four years of “you’re better than” seeped in and affected my mindset and thought processes far more than I realized.

            1. Bryce*

              My public school was one of the best in the state (government contractor in the middle of nowhere and D-o-Energy funded it to attract workers) and we had a big rivalry with the wealthy elite private school a few hours away. In a math competiton in eighth grade I came in first, their team came in second through fifth, and five years later they were still griping about it and spreading rumours about me.

              That wasn’t the only time I noticed a difference. My school had their share of jerks, but in general there seemed to be quite a psychological difference between being better educated/supported than nearby towns vs being better educated than folks living a block away. There were some adjustments to what was “normal” later on in life, but I think a clear awareness of the environmental factor helped me navigate that.

            2. Artemesia*

              If you control for SES, private schools and charter school students on average do not do better than public school students. Obviously there are some high powered very selective academic private schools and there are some terrible public schools (and some exceptionally good ones) – but there is a lot of comparative literature on this and for the most part private religious schools don’t produce better outcomes in similar kids.

            3. allathian*

              School was very easy for me, and I rarely studied much after school, because I actually listened to the teacher in class instead of goofing off like many did. I didn’t have a straight A average by any means, but a mixture of As and Bs in academic subjects and the only C I got was in PE.

              Going to college was a wake-up call for me, sometime in my freshman year I realized that I’m going to have to study to do well at this.

            4. Dust Bunny*

              I went to a couple of okay but not prestigious private schools early on, when my parents realized I was struggling post-kindergarten, but then to a series (we moved around a lot for awhile) of public schools ranging from pretty bad to quite good. The district from which I finally graduated was solid. I had very invested parents, though, and I think I would have done about as well academically just about anywhere.

          3. JustaTech*

            I also went to a college like that, but luckily for me (in retrospect) I also went to a high school like that, so my ego had gotten it’s thorough kicking while I was still home to cry at my parents in a supportive environment, rather than a lot of my friends in college who were both getting a metaphorical kick in the teeth *and* having to figure out living as semi-adults.

            1. TardyTardis*

              I was lucky enough to get a very hard class (for me) my freshman year to teach me that I Wasn’t All That and to be grateful for a C. Taught how to really study and not just skim.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              Our mother is a very good writer, at least from the perspective of research papers, and was by far the toughest editor we ever had. I dreaded homework assignments when I was in high school but my siblings and I all thanked her later when we could hold our own in college and, for some of us, grad school.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          A friend and I were going to college at the same time. We were talking about our classes and I mentioned that 11 pm was my shut off time, I went to bed no matter how much more studying I felt I should do. I was totally blind-sided when my friend said to me, “You have to study? Wow. You must be stupid.”

          While I just gave her a stare, internally I realized that my friend would never be using her education for anything. Fast forward, decades later, and yep, she never used her education for anything and she declared her program a rip-off.

          1. yokozbornak*

            Had a similar situation in college. I was from a poor family and my college dorm was the nicest place I had ever lived and the first time I was around people who got me. I was having a blast and was kind of a doofus, but I took my grades very seriously because I was on scholarship. After the first semester, I was the only person in my dorm that made President’s List (4.0 GPA). I remember one snooty girl looking at me and saying with disdain, “I would never know you were smart.” Totally rude and unnecessary. She became a nurse which really scares me.

            1. irene adler*

              At the college orientation (for parents & incoming freshman), I got to talking with one of the parents.

              She simply would not believe that I was an incoming freshman – just like her son. Couldn’t be, she said. A student has to be very smart to get in. Like her son. He’s very smart and accomplished. I couldn’t possibly be as smart as her son. She insisted that I was just a school employee on my break time – come to chat with the new students. Which she thought was very kind of me to do.

              He dropped out. I graduated. So much for smart and accomplished.

              1. Caliente*

                This could be one of the grossest things I’ve ever heard. Makes my skin crawl. And we wonder why some people feel so entitled.

              2. Artemesia*

                I taught at a highly selective university and at one freshman orientation we had a parent lecture us on how we should ‘learn from’ his son who had much to teach us. We were highly amused. He was not stupid — but he was also not much more than your average bright college freshman. We were all PhDs — and while I am sure some of us might not have been as smart as he was, none of us was less ‘knowledgeable’.

          2. meyer lemon*

            I had a friend in university who would pout for days if I got a slightly better grade on a test or assignment, even though he knew I studied for hours every day while he goofed off and played video games. And I still did only marginally better because he was very gifted.

        3. Artemesia*

          I taught at a highly selective university where odds were high that the person next to you in class was also a valedictorian with a 1590 SAT (1600 system). And yeah the horror of the first ‘B’ was a real assault on the ego of many a student.

          A huge number of parents were really caught up in it too. I had a student advisee who just couldn’t cut it and wanted to transfer to a state school. He was a great kid, probably would have done fine there — but his parents were insanely committed to the idea that he would graduate from prestige U. Always wondered how his life turned out. Of course he made it through, barely — but I think he would have been better off doing well somewhere else and a place he had chosen.

          1. Sawbonz, MD*

            My brother got into “Insert famous Ivy League law school here” and our parents were over the moon. But he ended up attending “Insert excellent state law school here” because they gave him great scholarships and aid.

            When they met new people, they never mentioned that their son was in law school because they didn’t want people asking where he went.

            Yep, that’s my family!

            1. hufflepuff hobbit*

              Your username suggests you are a physician and I assume this is a nonrandom association

            2. Artemesia*

              My brother applied to Stanford Law and Harvard Business — wasn’t sure which direction he wanted to go. He got accepted to Stanford Law and excitedly called my folks to share the news. The first words from their mouths? ‘Have you heard from Harvard?’ — That is my family. (FWIW he graduated from Harvard and went on to probably be the most successful member of his graduating class.

              My father didn’t think it important for a ‘girl’ to get a college education and when I was nominated for a Fulbright my senior year refused to fill out the financial paperwork required in the process. I later went on to grad school on my own.

              1. SeluciaMD*

                I hope you don’t mind me saying this but your dad SUCKS. How clueless do you have to be to not realize what it takes to be nominated as a Fullbright scholar and treat that honor and your kid with the respect they deserve?? Congratulations on that honor – and on doing grad school on your own. That’s amazing, you are amazing, and your dad is a terrible parent, a misogynist, and as previously stated SUCKS.

            3. Salymander*

              I got into the prestige schools that my parents thought were good enough for their family, but I decided to attend the excellent-if-slightly-less-prestigious school because it gave me a fabulous scholarship that paid for everything. My parents wouldn’t have paid for my college even if they had the money, and they definitely didn’t have the money. They were really angry that I decided to go to Fabulous Scholarship School rather than Debt For Life School, but I am the only person I know with a college degree and no debt so I think that I made the right decision.

      3. Abyssal*


        I got raised like this, and it’s a hellishly hard mindset to break out of. Your worth is directly tied to Winning, to High Scores, to Achievement. If you do not Win, you have nothing to be proud of and you are worthless. If you want to be worthwhile, you had better Win.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          (((hug))) if you want it. I strongly disagree with that style of parenting.

          As a parent, my goal is for my child to be happy. This means teaching him enough :
          1) General education that he’s got a good idea of interesting and liveable careers
          2) Self-care that he can manage his solo household in a safe and hygenic way
          3) Social skills to be able to assess what makes him happy, and to find a good partner.

          There are boundaries and standards, but we aim for a balance of parent-directed and child-directed. Our 13yo just read about Tiger Mom and expressed his gratitude that we weren’t like her. I also expect he’s going to complain less about his weekly cooking lessons.

          1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

            Haha! I’m planning to buy that book and have my kids read it. It will change their perspective on parenting, especially my parenting.

          2. Abyssal*

            This is awesome and it sounds like you’re doing fantastic with him :) I wish my parents had spent more time teaching me practical self-care skills and less time insisting I do All The Things, All Of Them. Being first chair in the regional teen orchestra did much less to prepare me for adulthood than a few patient lessons in “here’s how to properly clean a bathroom” would have.

        2. GrumpyGnome*

          I feel this. I was grounded in grade/high school if I got anything less than a 90. I was grounded till I got my next straight A report card. The ONLY exception was for phys ed when I had bronchitis and also diagnosed with asthma that year. Sure, I graduated valedictorian and did damn well….til I hit college and a whole bunch of other smart people. It was also the point in time that many mental health issues really kick in. All of that together was a bad mix and almost 2 decades later I’m still struggling with that emotional fallout. I’m back in school and have a 3.8 GPA but I still feel it’s not good enough because of how I was raised. Please, don’t do this to your kids.

          1. Them Boots*

            3.8 ROCKS!! Go you!!!!! My parents were on the ‘must achieve’ thing…but also did temper it a bit. As in, if I had no d’s or f’s and. 3.0 GPA, then clearly I had a certain amount of discipline and could decide for myself when to be home on a school night. Of course this sometimes meant all-nighters in high school and Mom would never let me stay home ‘sick’ after one. She figured I might as well learn to deal with life sooner than later. Decades later I can report that many colleagues couldn’t believe I would be able to work after social times, and many bosses who said my reliability was one of my greatest strengths. Thanks Parentals! College GPA of 3.7 was celebrated, especially as I worked full time after recovering from surgery & going to classes on crutches. GrumpyGnome, I salute you!! (Virtual High Fives if you want them!)

    3. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Oh absolutely.
      All those petty battles come down to what people feel they do and do not deserve.
      I deserve coffee. I do not deserve to clean up when I didn’t make a mess.
      I deserve my fair share of the office the treats (anyone remember ice cream bar guy who determined his share was met when, well, what went in came out the same way?)
      I deserve to win this. I’ve worked here longer; I work harder; I am never late; I am better than…
      Just like I deserve to spend the time throughout the day checking in on this site because…insert reason.

    4. Paul Pearson*

      Some people just can’t be good, they have to be BETTER. It’s weird, like the only way they have to examine their progress or achievements is in foes vanquished rather than tasks achieved.

    5. Caterpie*

      I would love to know the psychology behind this too! Our workplace has a yearly softball tournament where you can either form your own team or be assigned one, and there’s always a team of people who played in college and play regularly (before COVID I suppose) in a competitive intramural league. The rest of the teams may have 1-2 generally athletic folks, but are otherwise complete beginners or amateurs.

      They take the workplace tournament extremely seriously and don’t have a great attitude, for example arguing with the (volunteer) umpire with a 10-1 lead. I don’t even think there are prizes (maybe a free beer?) But like, why? What’s to gain?

      I used to be half-decent at a competitive online video game, but giving my best effort against someone who had never played before sounds pretty boring.

      1. Web Crawler*

        Might be off-topic, but I love games that give you a balance option, so you can have skilled folks competing against newbies. Like basketball where the newbie gets double points for a basket, or playing chess where the skilled player starts out missing pieces. Crushing somebody for the sake of crushing them is no fun for me- I know I have skills

      2. Marika*

        This kind of thing makes me crazy!

        My husband works for a big tech company, and before 2020, there were a whole bunch of intramural sports leagues. One of the things that seems to have been decided was ‘no stacking the deck’. So, you can register to form a team, but no more than a certain number of people can ‘request’ to be on any given team (depends on the sport). My guy plays Ultimate Frisbee every year – so, teams have to have at least nine people, three of whom need to be female (if at all possible – I’ve never seen a team that didn’t have at least four) and no more than THREE people can request on to a team. Other than that, you fill out a form that indicates skill level, and, because it’s a tech company, someone wrote an algorithm that sorts people on to teams.

        It actually works fairly well. Oh, you get stronger teams and weaker teams – I’ve noticed, in Ultimate, people tend to UNDERestimate their skill, rather than overestimate, but never to the point of stacking the deck. Some of that might be Ultimate – it seems to attract folks who can be really competitive, but honest; I personally think it has to do with the fact Ulti is self-refereed, and if you’re a jerk on-field, people just stop listening to you and you end up cut out. But my husband has done soccer, and cricket, and baseball (in successive years) and they’ve all been pretty balanced.

        I guess that’s in part because the company is big – it’s got a lot of people to draw from – and in part because for most of the players I’ve met, ‘proving it’ isn’t done on a sports field, it’s done on a keyboard. It might also be that you’re playing for NOTHING – there is no prize, no title, no beer even, just a ‘nice game’ and a silly email with the final standings at the end of the league.

        1. Cindy*

          Love that ultimate is self-refereed. Both my kids played competitively, such a fun sport and great kids.

      3. Scarlet Magnolias*

        My husband pre-covid played on a local bocce team. The firemen’s team were insanely competitive and usually drunk

      4. Becky*

        About 4 or 5 years ago there was a “Corporate Games” event that a bunch of businesses took part in where different teams could compete against teams from other companies in different events. Most of them were athletic events which I had no interest in–but there was a Scrabble competition as part of it which is right up my alley! I had a ton of fun playing and my teammate and I won the competition. I still would have had a blast even if we hadn’t won–did I want to win? Yes I did–and I did put forth my best effort, but I would not have been upset if I had lost and I didn’t lord it over anyone. I was happy with my performance which was the most important thing.

      5. Artemesia*

        At my workplace it was a kickball tournament — and people were just as competitive and trained for that too.

    6. Accidental winner*

      I would describe myself as medium competitive – especially when it comes to games/trivia. (Not physical competition.) For me I think it’s more about me wanting to do my very best, moreso than *winning* or beating others. Without trying to sound conceited, I’m fairly smart so a lot of times I win. It kind of stinks because I don’t try to always WIN (just do my best)… but it just happens. When I was a child my parents stopped playing board games with me because I would often beat them. (That made me sad.) Over the years, I can tell that my winning or often knowing the answers sometimes bothers people.

      1. Paul Pearson*

        But I think there’s huge difference between doing your BEST and just wanting to beat others. I’m bemused at those who don’t especially care how OBJECTIVELY well they’ve done or what they’ve achieved, so long as it’s more than/better than others. They don’t mind getting a D so long as everyone else gets an F.

        1. Accidental winner*

          I’ve considered that, but as a woman I think it’s important not to dumb myself down just so others feel less insecure. I love being around people who I think are smarter than me — I see it as an opportunity to learn more!

      2. hbc*

        I don’t think it’s a problem if you, say, went up against Ken Jennings in trivia, lost to him, and still felt good because you had a better-than-your-average performance answering questions. I also think the people who are bothered by your winning are more competitive than you and that your presence means that they’re going to lose.

        Sometimes you can rope them back in with a different set of rules. When I play Boggle, everyone else totals their score and I have to beat the sum. Someone I know usually draws with their non-dominant hand for Pictionary or is only allowed half the time.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          I wish I could institute something like this. I love playing games, I’ve studied game design a little bit as part of a college English course, and I’m really analytical about game mechanics and tactics. So I often win when playing with my friends. But I don’t care about winning, like, AT ALL, I just enjoy playing, learning the rules and executing them. My friends are all smart, but not as game-focused as me. They like board games but they’re more competitive. So they can get mad when they’re losing. I also used to be a huge know-it-all while growing up with them, so it’s kind of part of our dynamic to get annoyed at me if I act like I’m better at something. So they’re extra annoyed if it’s ME beating them, and they would be super annoyed if I proposed a handicap for myself. So in general I just try to play games minute-by-minute, without developing a bigger strategy. I sometimes make an effort to do actions that don’t benefit me, which is still fun because I can explore all the mechanics of the game as I like, instead of waiting for the opportunity for them to be the right choice.

          Luckily, I have found a pretty good way to break this cycle and try my hardest to perform, without competing with my friends–I now DM for them. ^_^

          1. Brisbe*

            The other thing to really consider for these groups are cooperative games. A group that might get too competitive with other board games might do well with ones like Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, Sentinels of the Multiverse, or other games where the group as a whole succeeds or fails. As long as the competitive players don’t try too much to play the game for other players, it can be a good way of letting everyone try their hardest, while defusing any over-competitive streaks.

            1. Web Crawler*

              My friends and I have been playing a lot of Pandemic. For this reason, and also the thematic relevance.

            2. A penguin!*

              Ugh. I’d rather play competitive games. In my experience, co-op games with ultracompetitive players too often end up with the ultracompetitors (attempting to) play everyone’s actions, and/or getting mad when people play what they see as the wrong moves.

              1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

                I’m also a bit worried if it’s still clear in some coop games who’s doing the most good for the team? Like I’m worried we wouldn’t have the competitiveness, but if I happened to be good at it that it would be clear I’m doing “the most” and they’d still get annoyed.

                I feel like a jerk for saying I’m worried about being good at a game, lol. It’s not like I’m better intrinsically, I just love reading manuals and getting a really good grip on how the game plays beforehand! Usually we have the most fun the first time we play, when I’m teaching everyone how to play and they don’t feel bad for not knowing.

                1. SoCal Kate*

                  I’m not sure if your group would enjoy collaborative games, but it’s probably worth a shot, particularly if they like RPGs.

                  I’ve found that it isn’t really about who is doing the best at the game because you are able to offer suggestions to the other players. You could also play less complicated collaborative games (there’s a whole spectrum).

                  My suggestions for not too expensive starter collaborative games are Pandemic, Zombicide (kind of a dungeon crawl with zombies) or Sentinels of the Multiverse.

                2. SoCal Kate*

                  (I forgot to mention this, but for those potentially interested in Sentinels of the Multiverse they are coming out with a new, updated edition soon.)

                3. Amy Farrah Fowler*

                  I might also suggest Legendary (deckbuilding game). It is primarily cooperative because if you don’t work together, everyone can lose to the game, but if the players DO win, there’s a mechanic to total up points so you still have a “winner” if the players defeat the game.

            3. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

              Sadly we are not meeting in person right now, but I’ve had my eyes on a few cooperative games for a while. Some are EXPENSIVE. I’m really hoping I can get someone else to DM at some point as well, because I want to try my hand at playing DnD cooperatively with them as a PC.

              1. SoCal Kate*

                There is also the option of DM-less RPGs. (My personal favorite is Ironsworn, or Starforged which is currently in playtesting.) Basically, the whole group plays together and you consult tables for story ideas. It can work surprisingly well if you have a group that vibes well together.

              2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

                Descent is good because there’s an app that will DM it for you. (It can get pricey, especially if you buy expansions), but it’s a lot of fun.

        2. JustaTech*

          I *love* trivia games, but most of my friends don’t, and the few that do don’t like to play because I know a ton of trivia (except sports).
          One time a friend got my husband and I a trivia game where I trounced everyone in the first round. So after that we agreed that I had to start 10 spaces back on the board, could only try to answer every third question and had to get the final question with only half a clue. I still had a lot of fun playing, because I like sharing the trivia I know.

          Then again my parents and I think that a fun thing to do after dinner is to read trivial pursuit cards to each other (I didn’t know there was a board or pieces until I was in high school), so I don’t usually associate “trivia game” with “winning”.

          1. hufflepuff hobbit*

            I am also good at trivia except sports and my husband still remembers both times in our two-decades-long association that I clobbered him because I miraculously somehow came up with a sports answer at the right moment. Perhaps *he* is a bit competitive.

            I am certainly too competitive and am constantly squashing it, because it’s one of the things I like least about myself

          2. Liz*

            This reminds of when Trivia Pursuit was huge back in teh 80’s. I can remember playing with my parents, and my dad, who was VERY intelligent, never answered a question wrong. ever. so we instituted a rule that he only got 3 questions and then we moved on. He still kicked our butts but at least we got a turn too!

      3. Not Australian*

        When I was a child my father taught me how to play chess. We used to spend long evenings together and I really enjoyed them – until the first time I beat him. Then the board was put away and never saw the light of day again. “You know how to play now, my job’s done.”

        1. Accidental winner*

          I once dated someone who was very into chess. He taught me to play and he always won…except the one time I beat him. (I actually think it was luck/a fluke.) He was so upset that he lost. That was 20+ years ago and I still always think of him when I play. I’m still not *great* at chess – I play my friends’ 10 year old who is in the school chess club and barely come out on top. :-)

          1. Hamish*

            Boyfriends can be the total worse about this. When I was in college, I dated a world-class mathematician PhD student (we were at an excellent uni, and he’d done his undergrad at Oxbridge) who was also a big board game enthusiast. I am also very smart, for the record, but was ‘just’ a little humanities undergrad. We played a lot of Dominion. I got good at it and started beating him, despite the fact that whenever he got a new expansion he’d read through all the cards and play multiple games against himself to work out strategies.

            His comment: ‘I hate how LUCK comes into these games’ through clenched teeth. Eyeroll.

            I also proofread multiple drafts of his PhD thesis for him (20 year old Philosopher student!), and understood it well enough to make suggestions improving phrasing and clarity, recognize when a word was being used in a field-specific way that would otherwise be awkward, etc. In thanks, he put me in the dedications when it was finished: “My proofreader and partner [Hamish] for reading and checking the English, even if most of the mathematics went over their head. Also for support and kisses.”

            Still mad.

            1. Cedrus Libani*

              I knew my partner was a keeper after we went to a gaming tournament together. He was super into this game and wanted to get back onto the international circuit. I played too, but had no business competing at that level, so I was only at this qualifying tournament for funsies. Then I started out 4-0, and he was already out.

              He was so excited for me. A lot of people would have been salty about it if I’d just been their friend, showing up and having it all go my way, because of course the filthy casual gets lucky. And when it’s their “little woman” showing them up – intolerable. But not him. Keeper.

            2. Kristi*

              Ouch! What a jerk. Him feeling the need to include that subclause tells me everything I want to know about him…

          2. allathian*

            I played chess at school in my tweens and early teens, but I never competed except in school tournaments. Now my son is showing some interest in the game, and he beats me more often than I beat him.

        2. Web Crawler*

          Oof. My dad taught me how to play chess too. Now I can beat him, but he gets slower and slower to respond as I get closer to winning (we play online). Last time we played, he waited a week and the game timed out. He insists that means it was a draw. I was one move away from winning.

          1. allathian*

            I hope you find someone else to play with. A parent who can’t stand losing a game to their kid is… a crappy human being, even if the kid is an adult, but especially if they’re still a minor.

            I hope you find someone else to play with, or find a system to play with your dad where if the game times out, you forfeit it.

        3. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          Are you me? My dad did exactly the same thing. Although, I will admit that I may have been a slightly sore winner (I was a kid and I was excited that I had finally won!) This past November, I was talking to my mom about it and lamenting that I never got to play with him again, so for my 35th birthday, he brought his chess set to my house and we played. He won, but it was a really fun time.

      4. Chess-ter A. Anonymous*

        I started to learn chest from a relative who was almost 20 years older than me. I was… Maybe 10. Every time I started to get the hang of it and do well, he introduced a new rule when he remembered it meant he could capture one of my pieces. Instead of letting me win one game, and then say the next game would add another new rule. Needless to say oh, I do not play chess.

      5. Al*

        I’m great at trivia and my family knows it, so I don’t feel too badly if I win a trivia game. But I get a weird sense of guilt about winning many other board games. This is frustrating because my family LOVES board games. I’ve found that I really enjoy cooperative games, where we’re all working together for a goal. (The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game is a joy, and I also enjoy The Game, Five Minute Dungeon, and Forbidden Desert.)

    7. Shirley Keeldar*

      I am occasionally guilty of getting a bit competitive over games; I think what happens is that my brain flips into problem-solving mode (“Your task–gain as many points as possible!” “Okay, I’m ON IT!”) and I’m really trying to figure out how to approach the game or the challenge as SOMETHING TO BE SOLVED which I will, dammit, d0. If you take me on in Scrabble, beware. But I do recognize this in myself and remember to tone it down for appropriate occasions and I certainly don’t yell at anyone for being a loser!

      Is the phenomenon connected to the fondness in American culture for insult comedy, as in the highest of all jokes is to say something rude and cruel to someone? I don’t get that kind of humor, but I think a lot of people like it and then forget that not everybody’s in on the joke. Or “joke.”

      1. Accidental winner*

        Problem-solving mode is a good way to put it; I am the same way. I don’t get angry at the other person if I lose. If anything, I get down on myself for missing a winning move, or getting a question wrong. I played sports through middle and high school and learned that even if you do your best, you may still lose. Not everyone can be the winner.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          I get excited when other people beat me (given that I am competitive in what we’re doing). In my experience it’s hard to match people very precisely skill-wise, so when there’s a competition where there’s an actual back and forth challenge, I dunno, it feels like REALLY playing. Like when you get into workplace flow and everything is working smoothly, you achieve this state of actually using your faculties fully, and also occasionally feeling the high of being ahead.

          1. Cedrus Libani*

            Agreed. It’s a lot of fun to play against people who are ever-so-slightly better than you are. They’re good enough to notice and exploit your mistakes – but they’re not so far above your level that you can’t realize what just happened and geek out about it. Look at that sweet move! I totally deserved that, and I should’ve done XYZ instead, and now I’ve learned something new.

      2. DerJungerLudendorff*

        Hi me, it’s me!
        This is pretty much how I approach most games. Fortunately I cant stand the idea of making other people miserable, so I can usually restrain myself from optimizing all the fun out of a game session.
        It’s also why I can’t play really competitive games: the goal is so often to take away all the fun stuff for your opponent, instead of giving everyone a good time.

    8. Nicki Name*

      In the computer gaming world it’s recognized that there are different ways that people enjoy multi-person games.

      Explorer: likes figuring out all the mechanics and finding the cool hidden spots
      Achiever: likes succeeding at challenges
      Griefer: likes making other people lose
      Socializer: likes the experience of hanging out with their friends

      Most people express these all to some degree but will tend to skew toward one or two. The people in the stories here who are very in-your-face with their competitiveness are probably leaning toward achiever/griefer.

      I lean toward explorer/achiever… I feel very competitive about low-stakes games, but I manage to keep it to myself most of the time. As far as free food goes, I feel a sense of achievement at showing up early enough to snag my favorite kind of cookie of the ones available, but I’m definitely not carting away more than my fair share or more than I can eat.

      1. IEanon*

        I agree with this 100%. I definitely fall into the achiever/griefer category in the more competitive games I play. My ideal PvP game is one in which I vaguely ruin my opponent’s whole day.

        None of that comes out when I’m playing socially or during, god forbid, low-stakes work competition. I was a terrible sore loser when I was younger and I see that come out sometimes even now, so I try not to take things too seriously and just enjoy the social aspect. People like Ethel in the OP never do the necessary introspection to see how obnoxious it is to others or lack the self-control to behave like an adult.

        1. Nessun*

          Exactly! I’m an Achiever/Socializer, and I know that in an MMO I should stick to PvE and avoid the PvP like the plague, because it will make me super sad and unlikely to continue. BUT – that’s in game, and it’s all about knowing your limits. PvPers are a certain group, and they know what they’re getting into, and they like it. IRL you don’t necessarily know that Jimmy from Accounting is going to be nuts about winning the golf tournament or Joan from HR will scream when she doesn’t win the raffle at the holiday party, and you can get blindsided. There’s a place for competition, and a way to make it healthy and fun, and allow people to draw boundaries. People who skew as Griefers need to not bring that to work – self-understanding, it’s a skill!

      2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        Sociologists study this as well, and I studied it in a literature class in college. I forget the name of the course, but it was something like literacy or narrative in gaming. We studied the psychology of how people mentally engage with games (computer and board games), and how that relates to how people engage with stories and other literature, and the overlap there. It gets even more interesting when you narrow in focus, like how different people roleplay differently.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Thanks for that breakdown oh, it might settle some issues in our next family gaming session. I’m tempted to add one more category: completionist. I don’t care how long it takes me to get there, I don’t care if another character has to teleport me up, but I hate not doing an optional item.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          I’m pretty sure when I studied this there were five types, but I wonder if completionist has overlap with explorer? I’m both, but the feeling of exploring usually shares a bit of the compulsion of getting everything. Like I want to “get” every part of the map, see each thing, collect each collectible, know the prettiest spots (in an open-world game), be able to do every move and combo, and yes, do all the fun stuff that gets you every last achievement.

          1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

            Oh, I remembered another type! Don’t remember the name, but it was basically a person who enjoys a game by testing it. These are the people who do glitching speed runs, trick shots, try to escape from maps, kill everyone in a town in Skyrim. Basically, either they have no interest in playing the game as presented, or they do play it and then they’re bored and find other ways to enjoy it.

        2. Nicki Name*

          If it’s totally optional, then that fits under the definition of explorer: gotta see and do all the things!

      4. NerdyLibraryClerk*

        As someone who can’t complete the test to see what kind of gamer you are (without lying/picking random answers), I suspect there’s a missing fifth type, or the test is too narrowly written to work well. Or both. I’m sure I can’t be the only person who gets a few questions in and starts hitting questions where both options are hard nos.

        Which is too bad, because I find the general idea very interesting, and it is clear from my experience with MMORPGs that people are playing for very different reasons. And different games cater more and less to certain of those reasons, which results in very different social dynamics/player bases. It’s not even necessarily whether competition as part of the game, but more where or how competition is part of the game.

        Example: In Guild Wars 2, you can opt into small or large scale PvP, but it’s separate from the main game/story, and there’s no competition for resources or mobs in the world – everyone who harvests a gathering node gets resources, everyone who attacks a mob gets credit. There are also a lot of loose group activities in the world that can be easily joined by anyone wandering by – even without officially grouping. The result is a fairly cooperative playerbase, and one of the few MMOs where the general chat is not full of the worst of online life. Final Fantasy XIV, which also has a lot of shared open world activities also seems pretty chill as far as playerbases go.

        MMOs with competition for resources and no shared activities tend to have a more competitive playerbase and frequently horrific general chat. (See World of Warcraft – though I think they may have changed the resource bit – or Star Wars: the Old Republic.) That’s not to say people never cooperate in the other games, they absolutely do, it just isn’t as much the default. (Hell, even in WoW and SW:TOR I can think of times when I unofficially crossfaction teamed with total strangers, even though that meant defeating enemies twice, as you can’t actually group cross faction. Some people will cooperate no matter how much a game wants them not to. … Which is kind of the reverse of what this thread is about.)

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          ::waves:: just back from Tyria myself. I love that GW2 gives points & achievements for healing other people and even NPCs — compete to see who can heal the most strangers first? Perfect!

          1. NerdyLibraryClerk*

            Yep! The devs really worked hard to make it a friendly game, and succeeded. And there’s a real shortage of ways for people who take competition too far to really do so at anyone – other than, like, yelling at people in chat, and that’s not going to go over well.

            Now we just need a way to figure out how to similarly defang work place competitions!

            1. Idril Celebrindal*

              Omg fellow GW2 players!!!! Now I find myself wishing we had an AAM guild because I don’t have a guild anymore and want to find one with quality people…

              I fully agree with you both on the way that the devs worked really hard to build a game that encouraged friendly and cooperative play, and also how much their early heavy moderation of crappy behavior really set the tone for the kind of culture that perpetuates positive community.

    9. CoveredInBees*

      While there are sore losers everywhere, I’d bet good money it is far more pervasive in the US than anywhere else I’ve lived. Everything is like Highlander (there can be only one)! From school onward, there’s aggressive competition and ranking that is far from anything I’ve seen elsewhere. Often it isn’t about being really great at something, just beating out someone else. It can get so poisonous socially as well, whether it is people taking on debt to compete with their neighbors or feeling like there’s only room at the top for so many so any marginalized group gaining power is a threat to them.

      1. Like Sharknado, but with turtles*

        Maybe team competition versus individual competition explains why so many people on my (nice to work with) work team run marathons. They compete against their best times, rather than trying to beat out every other runner (except for that one person, who is good enough to be a sponsored runner, so she is running against everyone else, although she is not adversely competitve at work)

    10. Sleepless*

      For one thing, some people are just wired that way. My BIL was a camp counselor in college, and one of his campers grew up to be a well-known (at least in our city) professional athlete. I couldn’t resist asking what Athlete had been like as a kid, and BIL said that mostly he remembered him being the most competitive kid he had ever seen. Anything that could possibly be a contest, this kid was hellbent on winning.

      1. allathian*

        Or else he’s been taught since he was in diapers that he needs to win all the time to be worthy of his parents’ love.

    11. Threeve*

      I don’t think I’ve ever been in a competitive situation like this at work. How do people like this react if you just give them a deeply incredulous “you know you’re an adult, right?” Because that would be my automatic response.

    12. Tinker*

      There have been times that I’ve presented a front that’s a bit like this — not to an extent that there are spectacular stories about it, but I’ve probably said a few silly (also, untrue) things about how much I prioritize winning. The underlying thought process was something along the lines of:

      — In a company, people are judging all sorts of things about you, definitely inclusive of how you play games, to determine whether you are “the right sort of person” or not. If you end up classified as ‘not’, you will miss out on opportunities to do more challenging work that makes a larger impact.
      — Whatever you can discern the “right sort of person” to be, you should present yourself as that thing to the extent of your ability with minimal consideration as to whether it aligns with your identity or preferences.
      — Some companies make statements that they value only the best, work hard play hard A-player 10x rockstars for whom second place is the first loser, and some people advise that this is the attitude that one must have in general in order to succeed even if the company one is presently working for is not making those particular statements.
      — I have a definite sort of tendency to take things very literally, and I was not always aware of the extent of this tendency. I therefore have ended up believing the foregoing even in the presence of signals otherwise.
      — Although I’m not inclined to be aggressive in that particular way, I do have a definite desire to challenge myself and to make impactful contributions to the world.
      — Therefore, I had better act as if honor demands that I conquer and dominate the slowly rotating windmill on this mini-golf course.
      — Hilarity ensues.

      1. Artemesia*

        I always translate ‘work hard, play hard’ to ‘we are all drunks who are nasty to each other.’ Every place I know where people spout that, has had a hard drinking culture.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          Oh yeah, if I ever see that phrase in a job ad, it’s like “nope, next.” I’m totally fiine with the work hard part, I just don’t want to work with an entire office of people who are competing to see how hard they can play. And are probably also grade-A arseholes.

        2. Sister Michael*

          I once saw this on a company’s website as “We like to work hard and play hard (when appropriate)” and it cracked me up because it had the same vibe as a straight-laced person trying to seem cool. I have no idea what their actual company culture was like, but the people I dealt with were pleasant. So I’ve always assumed the place was either secretly a mess trying to look responsible, or secretly really tame but wanting to seem start-up-y and “disruptive”. (My money is on option B)

    13. meyer lemon*

      It doesn’t really surprise me, honestly. We’re often put in situations where we’re (implicitly or explicitly) expected to be competitive and “driven”: school, job competitions, sports, recreation, you name it. It stands to reason that for some people, it’s hard to figure out where to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable occasions for competitiveness. Maybe I’m a bit biased on this because I am highly non-competitive and have always found all kinds of competitions baffling and stressful.

    14. Filosofickle*

      Jer Clifton has fascinating research about “primal world beliefs”, how we view the world. They include things like is the world dangerous or safe? Is it interesting or boring? Does the world have a fundamentally good or bad nature? Is the world intentional, does everything happen for a reason, or not? Is everything that happens about me? When you stack beliefs together you get certain type of person.

      The psychology of dompetitiveness relates to several primals, these 3 in particular IMO:

      Competitive (v. cooperative): The world is a cutthroat place and you have to do what you can to survive. This one’s obvious.

      Hierarchical (vs. non-hierarchical): Everything can be organized and stack ranked by importance, goodness, or quality. Things cannot simply be equal or different.

      Barren (v. Abundance): Life offers few opportunities, I have to fight for my share before someone else takes it.

    15. Butterfly Counter*

      I will ‘fess up to being INCREDIBLY competitive. Luckily, I don’t have any office stories where I’ve embarrassed myself.

      My competitiveness is just something inside of me. I have some natural talents physically and (when I was younger) a great memory, both of which are highly praised in elementary school. I also just really enjoyed testing myself against others. I don’t think I was ever ruthless or unkind, I just loved playing whatever game we were playing and winning was a kind of treat at the end.

      In the 7th grade, we moved to a Southern state where extreme competitiveness in girls was Frowned Upon outside of “girl sports.” Any time I puffed up and started to take a coed game seriously, someone delighted in taking the wind out of my sails. While it didn’t stop my competitive nature, it did give me more situational awareness (and a whole ton of righteous anger). Which is probably the main reason why I don’t have any embarrassing office stories.

      (My only slightly embarrassing story is when friends on my soccer team (with similar competitive streaks as my own) and I were out somewhere and met a similar sized group of guys. We were romantically flirting with them at first, and then they challenged us to a game of foosball, boys vs. girls. Let’s just say the whole mood changed and there were no love connections that night.)

    16. JJ Bittenbinder*

      It is pretty fascinating. I’ve watched people get so competitive playing a mock Jeopardy! game during a work training (that is, we played the game to review and reinforce the content that had been covered in the training) that I wondered if they thought they were really playing for money as on the TV show.

      And this isn’t a skill-based example but during a yankee swap at a job long ago, I had the number 1 so got to go again after all gifts had been open. I swapped what I had with a woman who had opened a bottle of wine, and she was PISSED. She sulked, she whined and she brought it up at the next 3 holiday parties. It was very strange— especially as we were all over 21 and could presumably buy our own bottle of wine. (And the price limit for the gifts was $10, so this was on the order of zhampagne, not anything fancy).

  5. PolarVortex*

    Why am I out of popcorn when this gets posted. This seems like it’s meant for me to read it while eating popcorn.

    1. Web Crawler*

      “Ha, I have popcorn. That means I win!”
      – somebody, probably

      I do have popcorn, though. Don’t worry, I can share

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Ha. This reminds me of when I was a kid, and I used to challenge my siblings with, “I’ll race you to finish my chocolate milk first!” and then I’d drink mine slowly on purpose, and when they’d quickly finish theirs, I’d say, “Haha! Now I have some and you don’t!”

        I told my husband about it, and now whenever I finish my wine before he does, he looks at his glass and looks at mine, waggling his eyebrows, as if to say, “Haha! Now I have some and you don’t!”

        1. redwinemom*

          I grew up in a family of five children. Most things were competitions. I was the youngest, so rarely if ever did I win.
          However, one time I hid my ice cream cone in a back corner of our camping truck when the game was “Who can eat their ice cream the slowest?”
          I was willing to sacrifice my ice cream by not eating it and letting it all melt. Then, after the oldest kid was screaming with delight that they “won”, I waited until even they finished off their cone. I slowly walked over to my wet, gooey ice cream cone and declared myself the “REAL WINNER!”
          Everyone laughed because I turned the tables and fooled even them. (And I think that was the only time I won.)

          1. Anon for this*

            I have a terrible trait where I am super uncompetitive if I think I can’t win and (inwardly, not outwardly) very competitive if I think I will. This is why I have never bothered to learn chess despite having a maths degree and it being ‘the done thing’ – what if everyone I know is much better than me and it’s embarrassing :p (or I guess, what if I try and fail). Now you mention it, I’m also one of 5 (second oldest) and he made everything into a competition, and mostly won them too being older and stronger. So maybe I can blame that a bit :)

        2. Juliroooo*

          My friend describes her little brother as a “dirty rotten saver” because he always did this! Flaunted his Halloween candy the following April, took a week to open all the gifts in his Christmas stocking, etc etc.

  6. Cordoba*

    A few years ago we had a official but voluntary work gathering at a local bar; this bar had a few dart boards and people were playing casual games of darts mostly as a thing to do while talking.

    Nobody was trying very hard, there were no stakes at all, and we were barely even keeping score since people kept drifting in and out of the games anyway.

    It turns out one of the guys on a team that “lost” at darts was a hyper-competitive former college athlete who spent the whole evening seething with rage at his disgraceful failure to be #1 in everything always. He stormed away from the darts area and spent the rest of the event telling anybody who would listen that he only lost because the bar’s darts were in bad condition and his teammates weren’t using proper throwing form.

    If he had just shrugged after the game and gone on with his life I don’t think anybody would have even really noticed that he “lost”. Certainly, nobody would have cared or remembered it 5 minutes later. Instead he drew so much attention to it that everybody knew that he was the guy who lost at darts.

    And that guy doesn’t even drink. He was acting this way sober.

    1. Maltypass*

      Incredible. I’m surprised he didn’t have strong words with the bar owners regarding the condition of their darts!

      1. Magenta Sky*

        “He stormed away from the darts area and spent the rest of the event telling anybody who would listen that he only lost because the bar’s darts were in bad condition and his teammates weren’t using proper throwing form.”

        I wouldn’t want to bet he didn’t do exactly that.

    2. irene adler*

      “seething with rage”?
      That takes some doing.
      Hope there isn’t a coronary in his future.
      Would not want to be around when he receives his performance reviews.

    3. CoveredInBees*

      At a colleague’s goodbye party, I beat another colleague at pool quite handily. He didn’t take it well at all and never let it go.

      1. Can’t Stand the Smell*

        I learned to play pool in college. (Am a girl, btw) and boy it was hilarious to challenge the guys that had played for years and kick butt. I was fresh out of geometry class, and we had a good clean table.

        And I’m ambidextrous. Switching hands for a difficult shot was the highlight of any game.

    4. allathian*

      Ouch. I can’t stand super-competitive people like that, and I thank my lucky stars that I don’t work with a person like this.

  7. Tigger*

    Y’all. I have told this story before- my old boss flipped his lid when his team lost in my company’s March madness corn hole tourney finals. Like flipped the boards and everything. He even tried to ban the winning team from displaying the trophy (a red solo cup glued to a trophy base) on top of the cube wall even though they were in our division but not on his team.

    He’s now second in command of the division. The winners were forced out.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        The extra details are worth it, don’t worry. He forced out the winners?! Like, people had to get new jobs because they were too good at cornhole????

        1. Rey*

          Can you imagine the job interview? Q: Why did you leave your last company? A: I’ve got game…cornhole game.

        2. Sharkie*

          Of course that was not the reason stated. The reason was that they weren’t good culture fits.
          Let me just put it to you this way when I was hired there were only 4 women on his team of 25 . Within 9 months we were all gone. Before his promotion there were about 25 ish women in a division of about 75 – 80 people. Now there are 10 – 3 managers and their 7 direct reports. They blame covid but he screamed at my coworkers and I for wearing ties on April fools days cause women can’t wear ties so yeah

          1. Older and bolder*

            Didn’t Allison just post about the lies of culture fit re: POC? I mean just today. “Culture fit” needs to die a sudden death. (I realize race may not have been a factor here, but it illustrates how “I don’t value you” must be stopped!) Leadership needs to change this $h1t!

            1. Temperance*

              It’s also really often used against women. “Culture fit” is a fancy way to say “old boys club” without saying OBC.

          2. WellRed*

            Wait! Women can’t wear ties? I’d love to hear him explain that one to a competent HR department. (Which this company obviously doesn’t have).

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I was laughing out loud at my desk at the though of someone flipping out over a corn hole game — to the point of flipping the corn hole board.

        I can’t believe these people don’t find themselves ridiculous! Like, I’ve been in conversations where my partner turned oddly competitive, and at a certain point, I would find myself ridiculous if I continued on. At that point, I give up on the conversation, and then the other person thinks that they have somehow WON something.

        Okay, it was a conversation in my twenties with some other women about whether we had done any gymnastics when we were in middle/high school. I said that I didn’t take formal gymnastics classes, but that I could do cartwheels, walkovers, etc. Everything I said, the other woman would say how she could do it better at that age, until I suddenly realized that, somehow, my 13-year-old self was in competition with her 13-year-old self? And that she was very serious about proving her 13-year-old self the better of us two? At that point, I would have found myself ridiculous to keep arguing over something that had no way to be proved one way or the other, so I just disengaged from the conversation. And then she acted like she felt she had won some sort of belated trophy for her 13-year-old self and vanquished me? And that’s when I realized that she had been popular in high school — because that’s what they do: Just claim a purported area of greatness that no one can challenge, because they will defend it past the point where any personal dignity can be salvaged.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I have a friend who will randomly get caught up in arguing over a detail.
          Me: Which night last week did we get 2 inches of snow?
          Friend: It was Monday and it was 3 inches not 2 inches.
          Me: Uh. I could have sworn it was 2 inches they said in weather report.
          Friend: (suddenly accelerating) I am telling you, it was THREE INCHES of snow.

          Me: Okay, you win. [unspoken part: because none of this matters.]
          Friend: (as they try to figure out what exactly they won) …….

          It doesn’t happen that often, so I tend to ignore it but it is odd because it does not fit with the rest of Friend’s personality.

          1. Jay*

            My husband does this. It used to be a regular thing (me: I love that shade of aqua. Him: That’s not aqua. It’s turquoise). After a few years of steady feedback on how incredibly annoying and insulting this was, he stopped doing it except for two instances. When he’s with his brother they fall back into it (it was definitely a family thing) and when he’s stressed or anxious he will do it to me again. Him: That’s not aqua, it’s turquoise. Me: Honey, you’re doing that correction thing again. At which point he takes a deep breath and tries to figure out what’s bugging him.

            1. redwinemom*

              One of my friends was re-telling a story when it became very important for her husband to ‘correct’ every bit of detail.
              The next day she told me that she talked to her husband later that evening on his “correction thing”.
              He responded by asking “But don’t you want the story to be accurate?”.
              Her response: “No. I just want to tell an amusing story”.
              And amazingly – he never corrected her stories again!

          2. Lifelong student*

            Interesting- I have someone like your friend. I have spent a lot of time resenting the demanding way they insist they are correct- feeling as if it is a way to put me down. Perhaps if I reframe it as a way of insisting they won a worthless prize, I can let go of my resentment and respond with mild- very mild- amusement.

          3. Tobias Funke*

            I got into (and am now thankfully getting out of) this habit because I grew up around a lot of adults who would fck with me like that: they would say it was 2 inches, and I would say oh okay, and they would say HAHAHAHA YOU’RE SO DUMB IT WAS 3 I HAVE VANQUISHED YOU AND PROVEN MY INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY and so I became obsessed with proving I could be smart and right too. And then it made me a know it all asshole with a chip on my shoulder the size of mount rushmore. Or they would give me “spelling words” that I had definitely never seen in print before and then take great joy in me spelling them wrong. But I will never spell “hallucinate” wrong ever again!

            1. Absurda*

              Ugh, I feel you. I’m the youngest in my family and was constantly ridiculed (mostly by my dad and older brother) and called stupid for not knowing stuff I’d never been taught. Congrats, you’re a 43 yr old man who knows more than an 8 yr old. You win?

          4. Aubrey*

            Hah, I definitely see how that’s off-putting, but I could almost see myself doing something like that without really noticing.

            I’m not very good with time or numbers, but for some reason I have an odd need for specificity about them. My ex pointed out to me once that every time I asked him for the time, I would challenge his answer, because he’d always tell me it was “2:15” or “3:30.” I would ask “exactly?” and he’d say fine, no, it’s actually 2:17. I honestly didn’t even realize what I was doing! Of course, I wasn’t actually trying to be argumentative, so after he pointed it out, I managed to rein it in a bit. I just wonder if your friend has a similar quirk.

            1. dawbs*

              This is something I’m working on accepting w/ my kid. She has autism (But wasn’t diagnoised until 4th grade) and without being able to name it, the people in her life had already made accommodations for her need for literal-ism and firm points. If the answer has any ‘ish’ at the end, she’s a loss.

              (She’s working on accepting the answers given and to learn the question being asked.
              We’re working on giving better answers and figuring out the question we want to ask. And we’re working on making sure the world doesn’t run roughshod over her.
              We make sure her teachers understand that she will always answer the question you ask–not the question you THINK you asked. And she wants you to answer the question she asked, not the one you think she asked. )

              But it’s still a thing. There was a HUGE battle in my house this week because the format for every ‘essay question’ given this year is some acronym of R.A.C.E. It starts with “Restate the question”
              THe writing prompt said “talk about Katie’s big idea”
              That’s not a question. this brilliant (and she is brilliant) child and I talked at each other until we were both blue in the face, because she can’t restate the question unless there’s a question.
              I finally went into her file and deleted “talk about Katie’s big idea” and replaced it with “What was Katie’s big idea?”

              It’s on my ‘things to mention at conferences’ list. It’s also kinda hilarious in a beat-head-on-desk sort of way.

          5. KateM*

            This “okay you win” reminds me of my dad. He pisses me out a lot with that, because the situation is, say (using Jay’s example), that I’m explaining to him why “That’s not aqua. It’s turquoise” is annoying and irritating for me, and he says “Okay okay you win it’s aqua”, and I read it as “I just don’t give a two ducks about your opinion so I’ll just shut you up”. I hope your situation is not the same, although your unspoken part seems to be “none of what you are saying matters”, too.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Surrounding context is everything, right?

              So a conversation like this could be centered around which day was it the dog slipped when he went outside, because maybe I should have a vet check him pretty soon as he slipped again today.
              In this context, I am worried about my dog, the exact number of inches of snow is not relevant. I am trying to figure out how close together the incidents were and if there is any possible muscle/joint/other injury in my 12 y/o dog.
              I get baffled in instances like this because the exact number of inches of snow has no bearing on ascertaining the frequency of occurrences of my buddy losing his footing.. I should add, that this is a friend who would cry as hard if not harder than me if something happened to that dog. And my dog adores my friend.
              And in the end I redirect, by saying. “Where I am going here is that I am keeping track of issues the dog has in navigating about and I just wanted to know which day last week he slipped/fell. I know he fell the day of the storm last week. I knew you would remember the exact date we had that small storm. The exact number of inches doesn’t matter.”

              I do agree that in your scenario it sounds more like “shut up” than anything else.

        2. Uranus Wars*

          Right?! And a cornhole board is not like a card table that is just right there…you have to squat to grab and THEN flip it.

        3. Self Employed*

          I used to have a friend who had to one-up me about everything–even negative things.

          Me: I need to make sure my dishes are washed in the morning before our apartment inspection–dirty dishes in the sink are a lease violation and they can write me up, can you believe it?

          Her: Where I live, it’s a lease violation if you leave them in the dish drainer instead of drying them by hand and putting them away. They will randomly come in to make sure nobody has dishes left to dry. [that is illegal btw]

          and so on.

          1. Liz*

            Oh that sounds like my friend except she knows very little of what she speaks. The weather is one thing that comes to mind. She watches our local news channel. that’s it. doesn’t watch any national news, or read any news online, or check ANY other weather source. and you know the weather reporting can vary widely. But SHE is always right.

            She’s that way about other things too; like when I had to get tested for COVID (negative thankfully) becuse I had some symptoms and never ever get sick. She went on about how i go out a lot (no, i go out for grocercies and necessities and don’t shop once a month like SHE does), and how i don’t wear gloves like she does, and how the virus can get into a small cut or scratch and bam you’re infected, and that’s why SHE wears gloves. Never mind its airborne and while probalby not 100% certain you can’t get it from entering your bloodstream through a cut, i don’t know, but its generally NOT how its passed from person to person. She makes my head hurt.

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Updates are always welcome! I was wondering if any of the actors were still there and how it all panned out.
      OMG. I’m sorry you work for an ass, but you win today.

        1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

          Excellent. And that’s cool, too. I’m sure it’s worth hearing a few stories!

    2. Artemesia*

      I’m stunned that this event didn’t get him sidelined. But shouldn’t be surprised as being an azzhat is a condition of promotion many places. It is the mark of a ‘winner.’

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, as long as you’re a white heterosexual neurotypical male… If anyone else tried it, they’d be kicked out.

  8. No Tribble At All*

    One of my coworkers loves to argue. Friendly arguments, back-talk, devil’s advocate… he can’t stand not having the last word or not being “correct.” One time his boss challenged him to go a whole day without arguing. He lost at lunchtime with the second sentence he said. Then he tried to argue that it wasn’t actually arguing.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        I’m a bad person and every time my brother starts trying to “win” a conversation I text him the wikipedia link of that episode.

      1. Classic Rando*

        Yeah, I used to be friends with someone like that. He’s exhausting to be around, I won’t even comment on a mutual’s Facebook post if he’s already on it. I used to be fine with the occasional friendly debate, but even after years of no contact with him I still find myself shying away from arguments.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, me too. People who throw a tantrum when they lose what should be a friendly competition at work exhaust me too.

    1. SaffyTaffy*

      On a road trip my honey said to our mutual friend, “bro, if you can keep your mouth shut for the next hour I will give you a hundred dollars,” and he put the cash in the cupholder. And Ian lasted, like, eight minutes.

      1. My Dear Wormwood*

        Oh we had a friend like that – long car trips were hellish. But he’s since grown out of it…his toddler seems to be taking up the mantle now!

    2. Frank Doyle*

      Oh man that’s great, it’s like when someone labels something as mansplaining and then a dude pops up to explain why it isn’t.

    3. Cats on a Bench*

      OMG this is my son! We’ve told him what a pain in the butt it is to be around him when he does this and we point it out when he really gets going with it, but so far it hasn’t stopped. I think he does it on purpose because he knows it annoys us. He’s still a teenager though so I have hope. (please tell me there’s hope)

    4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      My dad claims our family motto should be “I’m not arguing, I’m just explaining why I’m correct.”

      1. Liz*

        Reminds me of Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang. hahahahaha. Which I am blissfully watching since I never did when it was on.

  9. Gone Girl*

    My boss once sent me a message that said “Congratulations, you won” because we had had differing opinions on a client project, and the client had just come back saying they loved my option and had zero edits ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  10. NyaChan*

    I’ll confess – we had a going away event for someone where we all filled out trivia ahead of time and then the winner was announced at the event. I joined late and was told that the guest of honor had won with 7/10 right, second place 6/10. Then they went over the answers again and I realized that I had gotten 9/10 right. I still don’t know why I didn’t just keep quiet – she was the guest of honor, just let her win! But no, I opened my big mouth and challenged the scoring (facepalm). Turns out the scorer missed my answer sheet altogether a find I was given the win though the MC made sure to point out that the guest of honor’s score was still more impressive because we all had a freebie (the question we submitted) and she had to answer them all from scratch. At which point I felt even worse because I knew he was saying that to preserve the good feelings I had ruined by taking her win. Oops!!

  11. Mujj*

    Not a really outrageous story, but a couple years ago I was promoted at work and was training my replacement. He didn’t pay attention in our training and was very dismissive and always trying to hurry me up. One day he told me he’s just a very competitive person, implying that he either was or would be better than I was in the role. He was fired a few months later for being so bad at his job. Just a strange situation overall!

    1. Captain Biggs and Wedge*

      Who woulda thought that rushing through training before a new job was a bad idea? Total shocker ROFL.

    2. ian*

      I had the exact same experience! It was super bizarre, he basically spent the whole time acting like I was an idiot and refusing to ask for help. What was extra hilarious is that a few months later, I got hired for a better job at a new company, and he reached out to me via LinkedIn to ask for a recommendation to the position I had held before I left. I sat there for a while thinking “now why do you think I’d think you were the right fit for this again?”

  12. Captain Biggs and Wedge*

    Read that story and the followup, I am just glad OP finally got out of the hellhole. Maybe Ethel still takes out the award and boasts to her embarrassed subordinates “I beat somebody in a game so much they quit the job ain’t I awesome”.

    Mine is fare less scary – it was a company team building event, they made us play tag. Some senior directors got so into it they ran FACE FIRST into a wall. And cringily after that, ANOTHER senior director actually went and tagged the poor man while he was nearly unconscious on the floor. I remember NOTHING about my very temporary work there, but would probably never forget that game of tag.

    1. SeluciaMD*

      Why oh why do places of business – you know, that aren’t like Chuck E Cheez or Fun Zone – think a game of tag is necessary for ANY REASON, much less team building??? What the heck is that logic even? Playing tag with my coworkers sounds like an awful idea and would not make me feel “bonded” to them in any way.

      So glad your time there was short because I suspect that was just scratching the surface of a problematic “culture.”

      1. Filosofickle*

        A friend ended up needing surgery for a torn ACL obtained during a company game of dodgeball. DODGEBALL! That seems like a safe and sane workplace activity. :/

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Ugh, if I worked for an office that made me play dodgeball I would just put in my two weeks notice right there. I wouldn’t care that I had no new job lined up, no backup plan, whatever, I don’t care, no problem, it’ll be fine. I will not play dodgeball. I have so many traumatic memories of red rubber balls flying at my face in elementary school. Why on earth would you make people play dodgeball at work??

        2. jackie*

          I work with a guy who has a glass eye. We’ve worked together since 1991. (We are both 59). I never asked him about it, but one day when all of us were discussing our early school life he volunteered that he had been hit in the face with one of those red rubber balls during a game of dodge ball in phys. ed. class. He was injured so badly that he lost his eye. His parents never sued the school because it was the 70’s, it was an accident, and things like that were just “never done”.

  13. Paul Pearson*

    One weird aspect of this I have is a colleague who is oddly competitive with me over work itself as he’s moved into my old role and I’m doing a kind of melange of several roles now – boasting if he processes more work (by whatever arbitrary measure he’s using because I haven’t figured it out) than me and lamenting if I’ve “beaten” him again – which is usual. He hates having to come to me with anything like he’s admitting defeat or losing score.

    I mean, it’s not because I’m a super genius and he isn’t – I’ve worked here longer, with these roles longer, I know the systems more, I know the clients more, our colleagues more and have troubleshooted (troubleshot?) the many many many Oh-my-gods-many problems caused by clients/colleagues/our IT system that I swear was designed by the Spanish Inquisition on one of their grumpier days.

    Generally I don’t care – I’m not keeping score in a game I didn’t sign up to play – but I’m here to support him! If he has too much work to do by the deadline I’d rather he admit it and let me happily pick up the slack or show him some Rather than spending 2 hours trying to figure out that problem he could ask me and I’d say “oh yes, this happens CONSTANTLY with X, just do Y” and fix it in minutes. I appreciate the initiative, my gods I do since his counterpart can’t open a door without asking me for detailed instructions on how to work a door handle, but ask for help! Talk to me if there’s an issue! No-one’s keeping score, you’re not being docked points here, there’s no gold medal or trophy at the end of the fiscal year

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      I have this coworker. So competitive. We produce documents on a yearly schedule. Each month has an allotment. Crazy competitive coworker (3C)will look for errors in last year’s and announce there was a mistake. Then she investigates who did the job last year. And announces that.
      To the general population:
      3C: XYZ was missing an underscore on the ABC table.
      five minutes later,
      3C: Jenny, you didn’t underscore the line on the table.
      3C: XYZ job didn’t have a bold heading
      five minutes later,
      3C: Bob, you didn’t make the heading bold and italic.
      and of course she had a partner in crime, an Agitating Sister Sort (ASS) in a tangential group who encouraged this.
      That’s how I found out I had a coworker named Someone.
      Cubicle wall announcement:
      3C: The XYZ job didn’t have the updated ABC table in it.
      five minute pause.
      ten minute pause.
      no follow up
      ASS, “who messed up that job last year, tee hee.
      3C: Oh, it’s no big deal. Someone forgot to check the table.
      and ASS WAS that stupid,
      “who did it?”
      3C: it doesn’t matter, just someone.
      ASS asked AGAIN.
      it was glorious to watch 3C squirm.
      (quick update, ASS alienated so many people that she had to transfer out or face HR again. Now 3C is trying to do damage control and be everyone’s friend again. Two years. People don’t forget.)

      1. Jay*

        I have a colleague like that. When he looks at my documentation for a current issue he’s dealing with, he goes back through the (not particularly relevant) info and “updates” it. He says he’s being helpful. He is not.

        I’m now the lead for a new project. I reviewed some of his documentation last week. It didn’t make sense. Sent him an Email saying “These things don’t seem to go together. What am I missing?” I wasn’t missing anything. He filled out part of the documentation flat-out wrong. I may have enjoyed that exchange just a smidgen too much.

        1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

          I just can’t help myself. It’s like Karma and my birthday had a baby and that baby gave me a present. And that present was glorious.

  14. Spooncake*

    We once had a sportsy team-building day with compulsory ball games. Now, I do not care about sports, do not have any skill at sports, and have an issue with my eyesight which gives me pretty much no depth perception. A colleague got SUPER mad that I was on his team and “not trying hard enough”, so he started to heckle me as… encouragement, I guess? Pressure to help our team win?

    Anyway, it didn’t work. The only good throw I made in the entire game was the one where he made me so furious that I launched the ball directly at his head. Sadly my piss-poor gross motor skills and terrible eyesight meant that I still missed. Also, we lost anyway, so his ‘friendly banter’ was useless.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      My 8th grade gym teacher tried something like that once. She was supervising the girls playing softball, while the other gym teacher had the boys playing baseball on the other field.

      It was a particularly hot and humid day (as spring in the Midwest can be), and none of us were particularly enthused about being outside that day. So the teacher (a woman) shouts at us “You play like a bunch of girls!”

      We all stopped and stared at her.

      Finally, one of the girls (and one of the more athletic ones at that) shouted back “We are a bunch of girls!”

      Teacher never tried that (de)motivational strategy on us again.

      1. SaffyTaffy*

        I suddenly remembered that when I worked for Cutco, our team lead or whatever said “you’re playing like a lady out there” (i am indeed a lady) and then said he forgot he wasn’t “on the field.”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      In grammar a school we burned through five sets of gym teachers in one year.
      I did what I could to help that process along. Standing on black top in 90 degree heat made me woozy/nauseous.
      “Not So New, RUN after the ball!”
      Me: Trying very hard not to vomit, “It’s waaay over there. I can’t get it.”
      Teacher: [throws hands up in the air]

      I could not have cared less about any of their games or competitions and I wasn’t alone. Other kids did not care either. I remember when we were told to run x number of laps, one girl WALKED. The teacher hollered for her to run and she simply to him, “I am running!” and she continued walking. A number of people vomited on that particular hot day.

      1. JustaTech*

        I had a middle school teacher who was also coaching outdoor winter soccer (ugh). If you were serious about playing you played indoor soccer, so everyone in outdoor soccer was not athletic/competitive.
        Our coach didn’t like that we weren’t particularly interested in being there (it was cold and wet and we only did drills rather than actually playing), so he decided to teach us to be more “aggressive”.

        Specifically, more aggressive about heading the ball.

        So we made two lines facing each other and he would toss the ball straight up and you were supposed to run and head it before the other girl got to it. If you didn’t head the ball you had to run a lap. I just took the lap, because even then I didn’t think heading was super safe. But two girls really did try and ran head first into each other (hard). Coach’s response? “Both of you run laps!” (Not, are you OK?)

        I guess a lot of people told their parents or the real gym teachers, because that was the last time we had that drill.

        1. Liz*

          Ugh. THis reminds me of the time I had basketball in HS gym class. Taught for the boy’s basketball coach! I also ahve piss poor eyesight, and almost no depth perception so i suck at anything requiring throwing, hitting or catching anything. I still remmber him yelling at me when we had to run up to the net, and chuck the ball in. whatever that was called.

          another gym trauma was volleyball in 7th grade. where my gym teacher had everyone play together, I’m this little skinny kid with glasses and braces, at the front of the net, when some HUGE 9th grade boy spiked the ball, which hit me square in the face, sent me flying across the floor, and broke my glasses. I actually had to go home that day as I can’t see diddlysquat without them. To this day, anytime i was made to play volleyball i would cover my head if the ball came anywhere near me.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Gym teachers who don’t understand medical reality dot-dot. Do those count here? How about the one who refused to accept a friend doctor’s note about needing to sit out PE because of excessive nose bleeds ?
        Karma cooperated that day. Halfway through the “play or I’ll fail you” game my friend’s nose opened a gusher. PE teacher got covered in blood on the way to the nurse’s office, where the nurse read him the riot act about ignoring medical issues. (My friend’s sinus surgery got moved up after that too.)

        1. SeluciaMD*

          SERIOUSLY. What is it with gym teachers????

          I had very large breasts in high school and my mom & doctor had to work for several years to get our insurance to cover breast reduction surgery. I had put off that second semester of required gym class for as long as possible, hoping that I could get the surgery before I needed to do that again, but no dice. So my senior year I took weight lifting, thinking that wouldn’t involve as much running/jumping/bouncing (which was painful, awkward and kind of humiliating). I WAS SO WRONG. Not only were we expected to run laps to ‘warm up’ every class, but we also had to do these “spot drills” which were like fast footwork agility-type exercises. I was miserable.

          When I tried to talk to my (male, middle-aged) teacher about my issues with running and jumping – which was beyond mortifying – he was a total jerk about it and very dismissive and instead of giving me some leeway or allowing me to do some kind of alternative activities, he punished me by making me do extra laps. After a few of them – holding my chest in place with my arms, of course – I was in pain and really angry and I just stopped running and walked over to him and told him I wasn’t doing it anymore and if he wanted to send me to the office, I’d take it. He made some snide remark about me being “melodramatic” (or something like that) I blurted out “why don’t you try running laps with two 10 lb bowling balls attached to your testicles and then tell me again how I’m melodramatic!”

          He stood there stunned for a minute just kind of blinking at me and I was SO SURE I was going to be suspended (which filled me with horror because I was like a super type-A, absolutely zero boat-rocking, hardcore people pleaser who had never had so much as detention in my life). Instead, he very quietly said “OK – we’ll figure something else out.” And we did.

          And while I was very grateful at the time for the accommodation, as an adult I’m STILL pissed that’s what it took to get it. In hindsight, I should have told my mom and I bet I could have gotten some kind of doctor’s note but that never even occurred to me as an option. I just thought I had to tough it out or beg for accommodation.

          1. knitcrazybooknut*

            I’m sorry you had to do this. I also LOVE this story. I’m retroactively jealous that my timid self never had the guts to stand up for myself like this. You’re awesome!

          2. Anon for this*

            All my sympathy. I now own sports bras that basically do the job (G-H cup) but I only found them when I was like 19, before that I would wear a normal bra with a rubbish sports bra ontop. I remember a dance teacher at calling me over at the end of class to be like ‘what is this scaffolding?!’ and telling me the bra I was wearing wasn’t acceptable. My reaction wasn’t to be like ‘fuck off you’re an A cup what do you know’ (I cried) but – I wish it had been!!

            1. SeluciaMD*

              All my sympathy right back! I remember when I did finally have my surgery pretty much every guy (and frankly, a lot of the women) I knew were like “why would you want LESS boobs?” If you have never had to carry around that weight on your chest & shoulders, or struggle to find a bra that fits (particularly for things like you mention – dance, theater, etc.), or experienced having every spill/crumb take up residence on the shelf that is your boobs, or had every male you encounter struggle to look you in the eye, you really can’t imagine how hard and painful it is. That surgery was the best thing I ever did for myself. Screw that dance teacher.

              And as for that particular moment, I think it was literally the only time in my entire young life that I had the chutzpa to be that in-your-face with an adult (particularly a teacher) and I think it was literally borne out of the overwhelming combo of pain, frustration and humiliation I was feeling because as soon as the words left my mouth I wanted to die LOL. But hey – it worked!

          3. allathian*

            I’m sorry you had to go through this, but kudos to your high-school self for standing up to this nonsense.

            1. allathian*

              This also reminds me of the time when I had to play volleyball when I’d torn a ligament in my finger. It was taped up, but hurt like hell if I touched the ball. So in the end I just tried my best to keep out of the way of the ball and I certainly didn’t touch it again during that lesson.

          4. Amy Farrah Fowler*

            Ugh, yes – gym teachers are the WORST… I was a straight-A kind of student in everything except for gym in middle school. We were doing some ridiculous tae-bo unit, and I had been working really hard, and managed to overheat myself until I started seeing black splotches and thought I was going to pass out. I told the teacher that I thought I was going to pass out/puke/both and that I needed to sit for a few minutes and the coach was like “fine, but you’ll lose your participation points for the day if you sit out”… how was I not participating when I had worked myself into that state? sigh… We also had tests where if you couldn’t run at a certain speed you would by design fail the assignment. It has taken me years and years to not feel like any physical activity/sport wasn’t just a straight up punishment.

        2. KoiFeeder*

          Special shout out to the teacher who watched me fall, remain unconscious for 5 minutes, and then made me play kickball anyways.

          I had a concussion.

          1. SeluciaMD*

            F*&k that teacher and that nonsense. What the hell?? Who watches a kid lay unconscious for five minutes and not only DOESN’T GET HELP they make them get back up and play a stupid sport like kickball?? I am retroactively furious at that teacher. I am so sorry you experienced that and hope your parents rained hellfire down on the school.

      3. AntsOnMyTable*

        I loved those girls who walked. I was fat and out of shape but I tried in PE. If it wasn’t for those walkers I would have been last each time when we had to jog a mile. Society doesn’t mind someone being thin and out of shape but god forbid you be fat and out of shape. So anyways, those “I can’t be bothered” girls always saved me a fair amount of humiliation.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          I usually walked because I had asthma and if I tried to run I would have to stop after the first lap anyway. One year a gym teacher yelled at me for walking even though I had just gotten back from two weeks out sick with bronchitis. The really dumb thing is that years later I started running recreationally and even ran five marathons (albeit quite slowly) before I decided I’d rather do other things with my time. If the damn gym teachers had recognized that my not being able to run was because of my not being able to breathe while running and helped me figure out a better way to breathe (which I learned myself after reading a few articles) I could have been a much better runner much earlier in life.

          Ah, well, water over the bridge now, as my friend would say.

          1. Them Boots*

            I have ONE cool gym teacher story. Just one, because most were horrid, but it’s wonderful! Mz.T saw me trying to run laps & limping. I was a chunky athletic ish type and didn’t normally limp. She told me to take a seat and ASKED! I told her my shins hurt. She told me to sit it out and got me a photocopy after class about shin splints-causes, prevention & what to do about them. 30+ years & varsity soccer later I am still grateful! Mind you, she wasn’t a pushover. If you had cramps, you still did the laps-at a walk & no shame. It was funny, she was always considered the ‘scary’ gym teacher, but the ‘popular’ one was the one who told me to run laps anyway and was a jerk to the girls with periods or anyone with asthma, etc. Taught me a different kind of lesson about people…

  15. Dust Bunny*

    I work with a bunch of very reasonable people so I don’t have anything really juicy, but years ago we had Wii basketball as the optional activity at one of our office parties. I have never used a Wii in my life but I’m not half bad with a real basketball, and it turns out that the Wii is engineered really well so the hand motion needed to land a virtual basketball is remarkably like the motion needed to land an actual basketball.

    Coworker A was a avid Wii gamer and was making a lot of good-natured noise about how he was going to take us all down.

    I didn’t win but I did mop the floor with him.

    Worse, Coworker B, who had also never used a Wii in her life, figured that what I was doing was working really well and she would do that, too, so she came in third after me (I forget who came in first), so Coworker A didn’t even make the top three. He spent the rest of the party trying to improve his score.

  16. Maisie*

    Ugh, two team members, Felix and Felicity, at my last job were so competitive (we all had the same role). My boss, Hattie, (who was insecure and toxic) would egg them on and they would get rewarded for blatant sucking-up. I remember two instances –

    1) We had a team meeting where we shared tricks and tips we did as individuals to share with the group. Felix went first and then Felicity followed. After Felicity spoke, Felix interjected with other things that he did, and then Felicity interrupted with other things that SHE did. It was actually a bit funny because it was so transparent.

    2) During another team meeting and my boss needed something done. It wasn’t a project, but a 1-time implementation. She said, “who wants to do it?” and pointed at the two of them and myself. Felix and Felicity immediately started arguing about who would do it. I looked over at my boss and she was silently laughing. Also, this was the same day I was listening to a podcast and realized she was gaslighting me over other things.

  17. Another JD*

    I’m not sure if school counts as a work story, but this one is too good not to share. I met one of my best friends in college, and we took several classes together. Our grades were usually similar or mine were slightly better, but she got an A and I got a B in Folk Song and Ballad. For some reason, this was really really important to her. During her wedding five years later, I started giving my maid of honor toast and mentioned we met as students. She actually got up, took the mic from me, and explained that she got a higher grade in this class. She still teases me about that grade to this day, 16 years later.

    1. Captain Biggs and Wedge*

      Does she not realise that telling people this story says so much more about her than you, and not in a good way?

    2. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      If she had told the in iambic pentameter while strumming a lyre, I’d see why she got a better grade…

          1. Kwebbel*

            Plus one. And Another JD, I just want to say that I would read the sh*t out of your paper, even though your friend got a higher grade than you in Folk Song & Ballad.

    3. Square Root of Minus One*

      Oooh I had completely forgotten.
      Halfway through middle school, our physics teacher got pregnant and we got a sub.
      Back then, I was the worst at picking up on social clues, so most of the story was explained to me by my friend a couple years later.
      So I missed the following context:
      1. the sub was handsome, and 2. some girls were mad at me for getting the highest mark of the class so often.
      So it came as a complete surprise that one day I didn’t score highest, the girl who did teased me mercilessly for it. I remember being annoyed at the teasing and totally puzzled as well.
      Especially puzzled because, from her own admission, she had a cheat sheet in her pencil case.
      13 was the stupidest age I had to go through, honest.

    4. Please make it stop*

      I shared a class with a college friend and didn’t find out until YEARS later that she was convinced I was cheating because I got higher grades on tests. To be fair, I didn’t take great notes in class and sometimes skipped (it was not a hard class). However, when it came time to study for tests, she always wanted me to quiz her first, and I would. For hours and hours as her memory was…not great. At the end of her quizzing, she’d start to quiz me and I’d say “Nah, I got this” because I’d just spent hours quizzing her to the point where I wasn’t looking at the questions or the answers because I already knew them.

      It was probably fifteen years later that a mutual friend in the same class mentioned that the reason we had to rearrange seats so many times prior to tests was that she was convinced I was cheating off her tests. A.) I had higher grades and b.) The tests were different forms.

  18. sofar*

    Slack has this thing where it shows the people who send the most messages for the past 30 days.

    Someone thought it was funny and showed the Slack leaderboard on a slide during a meeting and we all had a good laugh about how everyone’s favorite Project Manager, Barney, sent the most messages BY FAR the past 30 days, because of course! Everyone pings him constantly and he’s super on top of responding. Yay Barney!

    In second place for number of messages sent was Robin, who works in marketing. And this slide lit the fire of competition under Robin, who desperately wanted to be #1 in a competition NOBODY ELSE thought was a competition. She said, “I’ll take the #1 spot,” everyone had a good laugh thinking she was joking.

    She was not joking. However, Robin doesn’t naturally send as many messages as Barney (her job simply doesn’t call for as much internal communication via Slack). So, for the next couple months, we were all treated to Robin sharing the Slack leader board in a shared channel as her message count crept up. And, because Slack counts number of messages sent, rather than word count, those of us who communicated with Robin regularly would get Slack correspondence like this (each line is its own message):

    Question for you
    for TPS report
    can you send me your stuff early?
    for review?
    and then I’ll add on.
    want to make sure we are aligned.
    and not doing double work.

    I’d return to my desk and see 40 missed Slacks, think there was an emergency, and see it was only Robin trying to pad her Slack count.

    After a couple months, she gave it up on her own because nobody engaged her.

      1. SeluciaMD*

        You win today’s comments. These are the moments I really wish this comments section had a like or upvote option!!!

    1. Lacey*

      lol wow! I’ve never been super competitive. I learned early that I’m not good at winning and I put my energy elsewhere. So I’m always just amazed at how invested people are in winning. Even when it’s something stupid like slack messaging!

    2. Person of Interest*

      We had a similar thing happen with the social media feed of our conference app one year, where one guy was super invested in winning the top poster award, and just flooded the thing with messages all day every day to rack up points. It was so bad that in the following year we made the prize for social interaction a drawing among all posters, rather than points-based.

    3. Elle Woods*

      Gaming the system, so much fun. I saw someone do this on a webinar recently. The presenter announced whoever had the most comments would get a complimentary 30-minute coaching call. It was amusing–in a sad way–to see a grown person be so transparent about what they were doing.

    4. MinusMinus*

      Ctrl+F’d “Slack” because I knew something like this would be here, haha.

      We had a Slack app called PlusPlus, which you could use to give people points for any reason. For example, you could do “@jane++ for the great presentation!” and Jane’s score would go up one point. And that’s it – there were no rewards, the points didn’t mean anything, it was just for fun.

      Some people got sooo competitive about their PlusPlus score, though! They made secret channels where people would just pump up each other’s scores for no reason. They would spam channels with dog photos or jokes because that was a good way to get ++’s. Whenever someone new made it to the top of the ++ leaderboard they’d make a big show out of it. Something that was supposed to be low key and fun got super intense!

      1. Artemesia*

        the thing is, that kind of ‘meaningless’ competition where the ‘points don’t count’ may in fact be more meaningful than you think if managers use those kinds of rankings. I have seen trivia like this making a reputational difference.

      2. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        The show Community did an episode on that! Each student was rated by happy bunnies or something. And the show The Orville, an entire planet’s court system, Guilty or Not Guilty was based on likes.
        It’s not such a stretch, the more I read here!

      3. PolarVortex*

        Oh gods we had the same problem with ours. We had the ++ thing and people definitely created “secret” rooms to give people points. Except we all knew they did it. Just made it stupid and them seem childish to me.

    5. SaffyTaffy*

      oh no I am also like Robin! I can’t help myself, if there’s a scoreboard and I’m just competing against myself, I will reorder time and space to get a higher number than I think really competent people could get.
      Seriously, not having self esteem is exhausting.

      1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        awwww, you’re good enough. You’re smart enough and gosh darn I like your self deprecating humor.

        1. SeluciaMD*

          ++ for this comment. Literally LOL’d because I could totally hear Al Franken in my head. Kudos.

    6. Snailing*

      This is how my mom texts me – not to be competitive, but maybe because she thinks it’s cute? Or sometimes because she is trying to purposefully annoy me with notifications and/or she thinks making my phone vibrate again will make me answer faster. She will even text “ding” multiple times in a row!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        When we can all end up in one place, ask to see her phone. Mine is so old that if I want a line break, it sends a message. Maybe you can talk her into an upgrade and save some dings!

    7. TootsNYC*

      I discovered once that I had the most calls to the IT help desk. There wasn’t any competition about it, and I felt simultaneously guilty and proud.

      (There were so many because I hired more freelancers, and I also fielded a lot of Q’s from my regular team and sent in the queries on their behalf.)

  19. LegendaryBobcatTaxidermy**

    I had to attend a “leadership retreat” for work, that included some competitive “survival games.” We were split into teams, and our teams would be able to win “money” (fake leadership dollars) for different events. I think the goal was to have a certain amount of “money” by the end of the retreat in order to win. Our CEO was on my team, and was very competitive, as were a few other team members. One of the ways we could save our “money” was by skipping breakfast (because in this world, food and coffee cost money). I watched in dismay as the CEO and other coworkers got on board with this idea, which meant no breakfast for us (after a night of sleeping on the ground, by the way, because camping was a part of this thing), and another full day of physically demanding “leadership building activities.” My coworker and I were pretty pissed but we didn’t say anything. Later that day my coworker and I bribed the retreat staff with some of the “money” to get us a box of triscuits so we could at least eat something. I just wanted to shout “you know this ISN’T REAL, right??? It’s FAKE MONEY!”

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Well, that certainly shows excellent managerial skills. Don’t invest in short term needs to meet long term goals. Hoard your resources and suffer.

    2. EPLawyer*

      I would have solved that one by FAINTING. If I could control the timing — right at a crucial moment needed to “win” one of the exercises.

      No seriously, if I don’t eat regularly I pass out.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Me too. And imagine if anyone on that had medical issues it affected? Diabetes, or even just medication which had to be taken with food.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      What a huge waste of time… wow. It’s amazing people did not quit before the retreat was over.

    4. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      A fantastic example of how a poorly considered incentive system can create destructive behaviour. Presumably whoever’s idea this was, wasn’t actually expecting people to stop eating.

  20. Noncompliance Officer*

    At Christmas we used to draw names out of a hat for small prizes. Soaps, $5 giftcards, small crafts, etc. One year an employee was very angry she did not get anything, to the point where she made a formal complaint to HR (?) that the game was rigged to give away prizes to a clique of people on the party-planning committee (?!!). Fast-forward a year: as we draw the last name out, she stands up and yells, “Bull#$%@! How did I not win?” She stormed out of the event location and left in her car.

    Later someone said they had seen her messing with the hat before the drawing. We looked through the names and she had put her name in 10 times.

  21. Takita*

    I had a boss (she was awful, just mean and angry and hostile literally all the time) who went berserk during a company retreat – one of the team building activities was a game of tug-of-war. It had rained very recently at the venue and the field where the tug-of-war was happening was very wet, muddy, and slippery. Everyone was struggling to not fall over and the game went on for a long time because people were losing their footing constantly. Awful Boss was the leader on her tug-of-war team and started shouting at her teammates to step it up – but she was saying things like “COME ON YOU F***ING PEOPLE, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU, YOU’RE NOT ALL A BUNCH OF LITTLE GIRLS, STOP BEING SUCH P***IES!!!” Everyone was taken aback by how aggressive (and offensive) she was being, especially since it was supposed to be a good natured team building event, but since she was a high-level manager no one called her out. Ultimately two people on her team slipped really badly in the mud, one sprained her ankle severely, and one tore his ACL. Awful Boss kept yelling at them to get up, but neither of them could walk. Our Quality Control Manager, who was also responsible for working with HR on workplace injury claims, was absolutely furious. The two injured employees were taken to the ER, and the QC Manager lodged a complaint about the general lack of safety in this excersize (muddy field!) and Awful Boss’ behavior, which she felt exacerbated the situation.

    I left the company not long after this. QC Manager left six months after me
    Awful Boss is still there, and has been promoted twice since my departure. She is now at the Director level.

    1. Wendy City*

      In youth group/youth camp settings where I’ve worked, tug-of-war was one of the Major Do-Not-Dos because of the risk of injury! I’m appalled at both your former boss and your company!

      Glad you left them behind.

      1. Captain Biggs and Wedge*

        Not to mention holding physical activities in an rained on outdoor environment is just a recipe for disaster. The organisers should have kept to their rainy day plans. Just horrible all around

        1. Takita*

          QC Manager said exactly this – outdoor activities on wet ground was irresponsible, and tug-of-war should never have been on the agenda period. She was really angry at HR for not having given her a detailed itinerary of events planned so she could have provided her input. Also it turns out they had no indoor/alternate/rainout backup plans for any of the events. It was just really poorly handled. After the retreat, HR circulated an anonymous survey about what we liked and didn’t like about the retreat and a number of us said that generally, rain or no rain, it would have been nice to have some non-physical activities planned in addition to the outdoor stuff (every damn activity was outside on that muddy field) – things like trivia, karaoke, or games that can be played indoors like petanque or corn hole. Awful Boss somehow found out I was amongst those who disliked the outdoor activities and told me that I needed to work on getting in more shape. Seriously. As if my objection was about not liking physical activity as opposed to the fact that two people had to go to the frikken ER as a result of the way the retreat was planned.

          She never apologized for her behavior or language during the tug-of-war, and no one reprimanded or even spoke to her about it even though it was clearly inappropriate in a work context. The guy who tore his ACL resigned after he came back from surgery. He had been one of the highest performing employees in the company and was very well liked. It was so frustrating to see this go down.

          1. JustaTech*

            I’m with your QC Manager 100%.
            When my husband’s company does a “game day” they have lots of outdoor physical activities (I think those giant inflatable balls you wear and try to play soccer in is one), but they also have plenty of non-physical games in the shade for people who don’t want to run around. And it’s not mandatory.
            The company culture says it’s find to get really into the game thing (everyone who wants to do it is assigned to a team and gets a T-shirt), but it’s also totally fine to either be just sort of into it, or to not be into it at all without any repercussions.
            That’s what keeps it fun.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah. Mandatory fun is never fun for those who wouldn’t participate voluntarily. It’s really weird how so many employers fail at this.

        2. Takita*

          They didn’t have any rainy day backup plans! It was ridiculous! QC Manager was like, you couldn’t have done trivia or karaoke or indoor games like petanque or corn hole? The retreat organizers just shrugged. Awful Boss was never reprimanded for her offensive language, and the guy who tore his ACL was out of work for several weeks (he had to get surgery and also worked a job that required him to be on his feet all day). The day he came back from leave he handed in his resignation. He was a high performer, so kind, and very well liked. It was so frustrating to see this go down.

          1. Takita*

            Sorry for the multiple replies – my first reply didn’t look like it went through so I replied again.

    2. Ali G*

      Ugh I was really hoping this would end with the Awful Boss’s teammates accidentally dropping their ends of the rope and the other team yanking the boss face first into the mud.

      1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        We had a corporate field day with a tug of war and the other team dropped the rope so my team fell backwards. Our team thought it was hysterical (and hey, we were happy to win) though the organizers got really annoyed.

        After a few people went to the ER with various injuries, the organizers toned down field day the following year. They underestimated the competitiveness and overestimated the coordination of Finance people. Is it really that surprising that a relay that required middle aged office workers to run and climb over picnic tables would lead to stupid injuries when people face planted?

  22. Arya Parya*

    We once did a golf clinic with our departement. We were 2 women and 8 men. We had to do different techniques like driving and putting and were rewarded points for each of them. The women got more points for driving though, because that takes strenght. It was something like the men were awarded 10 points for 50 yards and the women 15. At the end of the clinic the top 3 won a small price. Small like a cap or a scarf.

    I, one of the 2 women, won third price. One of the men, who came in 4th, didn’t think that was fair. He conveniently forgot though that I got most my points putting, not driving.

    Two years later he was still disgruntled when the golf outing was brought up. He probably still is now more than a decade later.

  23. My PhD stands for Pathologically hates Dancing*

    When I was in grad school, my research group went to a conference in our field. On the last night of this conference there is always a band, a dance floor, free food, etc. At one point in the evening my boss, a former hip-hop dance instructor, pulled our group onto the dance floor for a spontaneous dance party to a song that wasn’t the Electric Slide but was along those lines. It was spontaneous, low pressure, and easy to catch onto the moves.

    Apparently other research groups enjoyed our performance and thought it was planned. The next year one of my boss’s friends decided to challenge us to a dance-off. Her group had practiced their moves well in advance of the conference. Our group had not, as we only learned of this challenge that night.

    My boss went into overdrive. We couldn’t just have fun and do the same thing as the previous year, oh no, this was now SERIOUS BUSINESS. She dragged us into a hallway and came up with a routine on the spot. Did we know what song we’d be dancing to? Nope, but it didn’t matter. We drilled the new routine for at least half an hour, until she was reasonably satisfied with our performance. This wasn’t about having fun, this was about “winning”. I put “winning” in quotation marks because there were no judges, there was no prize, it was (imo) just a silly challenge. Obviously my boss saw it differently.

    The other group danced first, to a song they’d requested, and did fine. A few minutes later a song came up that my boss thought was perfect for our routine, so out onto the dance floor we went. I feel like our performance was maybe as good as the other group’s, but it definitely wasn’t better. My boss thought differently and declared us to be the winners. I graduated soon after, but I hear that she still brags about it to new grad students that join our group.

    1. Rock Prof*

      I’m trying to picture any of my PhD committee choreographing anything, but I’m just drawing a 404 error. However, there is actually a professor of geology I know who is also an adjunct at his university’s dance college. He’s like the faculty lead of a specific dance troupe (vertical dance!) they have!

  24. miss chevious*

    Yeah … I am one of these people. :( Not about actual work stuff, like projects and things, but about games and competitions in team building and “fun” events. I get aggressive, I’m a sore loser, and I’m an OBNOXIOUS winner. Fortunately, I recognized this in myself early in my career, and I simply don’t participate in anything that might trigger this response in me. Raffles and drawings are fine — that’s just random chance — but skills-based competitions are an opt-out for me (especially if it’s something I am already sort of good at), and if you force me to participate, I will do the absolute bare minimum so as to avoid becoming the COMPETITION MONSTER.

    1. Wendy City*

      Me too :( I think we can give ourselves points for knowing this about ourselves and taking steps to mitigate it.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          Oh! This reminds me of a time I ended up playing whirly ball as part of a team building thing… (Whirly ball is a mash up of bumper cars and lacrosse).

          Me and a director that I had butted heads with a few times professionally ended up in a 1:1 grudge match in the dumbest game of all time. I think the rest of the teams finally just got their own ball and left us to it.

          Weirdly we got along professionally much better after the whirlyball death match of ’09

          1. allathian*

            Perhaps he realized he couldn’t intimidate you? It could even be that he felt it was something you two bonded over.

      1. JustaTech*

        Please, have all the points! You’ve won the most important prize: self-knowledge, and the wisdom to take action to be nice to the people around you.

        Seriously, I have so much respect for everyone who does this.

    2. bubbleon*

      Fellow competition monster here! I’ve found that being one who organizes the competition helps with a lot of my issues with fun. That way I still get to be a part of it without actually pushing anyone out of the way for anything.

      1. Scarlet Magnolias*

        I hear you, Trivial Pursuit (particularly literature, pop culture and history) was MY game. And I am a truly obnoxious winner

        1. Artemesia*

          What fixed my wagon on this after years of dominating at trivial pursuit was a game with friends with a new edition on popular music — I just don’t care about popular music and pretty much know nothing about the groups of the 50s, 60s, 70s etc — they ran circles around me. Served me right for all my years of preening over being the smart one who knew stuff.

        2. Phil*

          I have a trick memory-I was a Jeopardy champion-and if I played Trivial Pursuit people would actually get mad at me because I got every question right. At one point I had to answer every question on the card.

      1. miss chevious*

        I wouldn’t say I’m working to mitigate it, exactly. I don’t try to soften it or mediate the impacts. I don’t even really see it as a flaw, in general, and it actually serves me in good stead in various parts of my career (I’m a lawyer). But maybe the way I mitigate it is to unleash it on the parts of my job where aggressive competition is valued, and not things like the fun, team building stuff. I’m like the computer in War Games for those activities — the winning move for me is not to play.

        1. Lacey*

          Yeah, I think recognizing where it is important to be competitive and where it isn’t is pretty self aware and mitigating any negatives to having a competitive spirit – because you’re right, it’s not automatically a bad thing.

    3. Kramerica Industries*

      I have found my people!

      Mandatory team games over zoom are my weakness because they’re my strength. Last month was trivia where the fastest correct answer gets points.

      Was I the first answer in for 9/10 questions? Yes.
      Did I consider slowing down because it’s weird to be this competitive? Yes.
      Did I continue to dominate because I thought that everyone is an adult who can handle competition so I didn’t need to tone it down? Also yes.

      1. miss chevious*

        If you didn’t want to lose, you shouldn’t have asked me to play. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        (See, this is why I don’t play these games at work. COMPETITION MONSTER.)

      2. SaffyTaffy*

        When I was out of work for a while I actually supplemented my unemployment money by going to bars that were doing trivia nights, specifically ones where you play as a team so the prizes are bigger, but I’d enter as just myself and win them. I actually had to stop playing games at a baby shower once because after 4 rounds it became obvious I was going to win everything and it was embarrassing.
        It’s such a weird thing, to be good at puzzles and trivia. People think it means I’m a genius, and I am really smart, but that doesn’t, like, make my life perfect or whatever.

        1. allathian*

          You have a good memory for trivia, that’s all. It’s a kind of smart and the kind that’ll help you get good grades in subjects that depend on memorization. But once you get to a point where you need to apply theoretical knowledge in practice, someone with lower memorization skills can do better than a trivia genius.

          1. SaffyTaffy*

            LOL thanks @allathian for your really useful comment about how intelligence works but I’m also able to apply theoretical knowledge in practice.

      3. mrs whosit*

        I agree. We’ve done some Kahoot quizzes in faculty meetings to review professional development topics, and I’m quick at quizzes and always win. Should I slow down? Sure, maybe — it seems to bug people a lot, but I figure as long as I’m not crowing about being the winner or being noticeably amped about competing, it’s fine. Seriously, though, the grumbling from some people after shows me exactly who else is competitive among our faculty…

        1. Xenia*

          Oh man. Kahoot! was an underutilized tool in high school, honestly. My calculus teacher would do it sometimes and it was so motivating!

        2. ggg*

          Trivia is my stupid party trick too. Usually it’s fun, but then when I don’t know something people invariably snark, “aren’t you supposed to be good at trivia?”

    4. Charlotte Lucas*

      I am this way, but only about trivia contests. Luckily, I’m good enough at trivia (and not a bad winner) that people want to be on my team.

      1. Cathie from Canada*

        Sort of off topic, but if you ever get the chance to watch a Canadian comedy sit-com TV show called “Corner Gas”, take it!
        They had an ensemble cast and a number of their funniest episodes concerned various competitions between the cast members — a golf game, a horse-shoe pitch tournament, a slow-pitch game, babysitting a little monster, trivia contest at a bar, who can select the best birthday gift, a Multi-Level Marketing competition, etc.
        Great show, and with some subtle messages about how poisonous competitiveness can be, but also funny!

        1. Shameless CGA Crew Member*

          Thanks for the plug! Now streaming most places on Prime Video… and check out Corner Gas Animated on Crave (Canada) and IMDb TV (US)! ;)

    5. Older and bolder*

      I’m really happy for you. You realized it early in your career and found something that works for you. That is not nothing, it’s something. I’m applauding you. :)

    6. SomebodyElse*

      Oh hi! I think I belong with you guys :)

      umm… yes I’m competitive. I do know that and make sure I put some gates up when it comes to work things. For instance my team used to do silly team building things like pumpkin carving/decorating. As a manager I always disqualified myself from winning anything, but if I happened to get the more votes than my fellow managers then yeah, I would rub it in a little.

      I remember doing a scavenger hunt with my peers and boss. I ended up on his team… oh my goodness I felt physical pain during that experience, our team was me (competitive), my boss (pretty laid back), and VP of quality (super methodical and cautious). I was also the shiny newly promoted team member. We got stuck on the second clue, and I’m proud to say that I spent my time going through the other clues mapping out the fastest route to get the most items in the stupidly short time I knew we would have. (instead of blowing a gasket) When the other two finally came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to figure out the clue we had about 15 minutes left (out of a 2 hour event). So at least I got us back on time with a few stops on the way so we had more than 1 item. We still lost … sigh

  25. ghostlight*

    I worked at a theatre as an intern and there was an annual holiday party that people got super excited about. There were always a handful of door prizes for a 150+ staff. The coveted prize? Fuzzy pajama pants made by the costume department. Apparently people got really competitive about these pajama pants even though it was just a raffle where everyone got just 1 ticket, and you can imagine my surprise when my name was the last one called. Several older staff members got so heated about me winning since I was just an intern. So silly!

    1. Melody*

      When I was in my early 20s (and looking like I was still in high school) I won a raffle for wine at chamber of commerce luncheon. I worked in Shipshewana, a town that had only recently allowed wine to be sold there, so people were a little bitter about it and questioning whether it was legal for me to have. My boss had to vouch for me!

  26. Delta Delta*

    This wasn’t a game, but was a weird competitive thing. I used to work with Lucinda, and our boss was Fergus. Lucinda and I had basically the same level in the company. Lucinda always had to shoehorn herself into any conversation Fergus and I were having. Sometimes it was dumb stuff, like chatting about what we did over the weekend. Lucinda would sidle in and basically take over the conversation, effectively kicking me out of it.

    Once Lucinda and I were tasked with interviewing candidates for an admin role. We interviewed Wakeen, Jane, and Cathy, and liked different candidates for different reasons. One afternoon we discussed this with Fergus. He asked what I thought and I started to explain the reasons I liked Wakeen. Lucinda really liked Cathy, and immediately started denigrating Wakeen while I was talking. She started talking louder and louder over me so that Fergus could only hear me. At one point she was actually chanting, “I want Cath-thy, I want Cath-thy” very loudly and clapping her hands on each syllable. Fergus did nothing to stop this and let her go. I could hear my phone ringing in the other room so I just excused myself and didn’t return to the meeting. [We hired Jane. She turned out to be a bad fit and Lucinda bullied her until she cried very day, and eventually quit.]

    1. Uranus Wars*

      So was Jane a bad fit because Lucinda heckled her or for some other reason. I would NOT want to be Jane in this situation and going to work would be awful!

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      She started talking louder and louder over me so that Fergus could only hear me. At one point she was actually chanting, “I want Cath-thy, I want Cath-thy” very loudly and clapping her hands on each syllable. Fergus did nothing to stop this and let her go.

      …this is the part where you tell us you were all five years old and playing “We’re at the Office”, right? Right??

      (Goodness graciousness, what the heck is wrong with people? Especially your boss for not shutting this down in the moment).

  27. CanuckGal*

    I am just waiting for a story about me to pop up here. I’m the competitive person – Type A, enjoys being generally sassy and likes to win. I have never injured anyone though…maybe just some pride.

  28. JustaTech*

    Many years ago (after I was an intern, but before I joined full-time) my company used to have softball games. This was separate from the industry softball league for our city, and was supposed to just be friendly games during things like the summer picnic.
    Then one year our head of sales took things too far. He was a competitive guy. So was the CEO, and a bunch of other people playing, but not everyone. Did I mention that there were people’s kids playing as well?
    Sales guy gets way too invested, screaming curses at the other players on his team (in front of their young children) “How did you not catch that, you lazy $%#$!” “You call that running you fat &^%$$%&!” etc etc.

    And that was the end of softball.

    8 years later he was back as our CEO. We did not play softball.

    1. Older and bolder*

      In these stories never understand why no one demands the behavior stop. The parents? Other adults?

      1. somebody*

        Head of sales is pretty high on an org chart. People under him are less likely to speak up, especially if he’s being aggressive and his peers or seniors, like the CEO, are around but silent.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yeah, he was the boss of a lot of people, and senior to most everyone else. Honestly the CEO *should* have told him to cut it out, but the CEO probably liked it (sigh, he’s another story).

          Also, while the head of sales wasn’t a huge guy, he was very physically intimidating, and was getting very red in the face, so people were a little afraid to confront him. Pugnacious is a good description.

          I also think he might have left the company about a year after this incident. (And then came back as CEO, until he was to pugnacious/aggressive to the wrong people.)

    2. I Don't Know What I Do*

      I attended one softball practice during my first full-time job. I was trying to be social and was told it wasn’t competitive. I had also never played softball — now a soccer team, and I would have had a chance. Someone hadn’t told one of the older men there. He was yelling during practice. I quit and made up an excuse.

    3. NYWeasel*

      There was an annual soccer match bt two regional teams every year at this big sales/marketing offsite. After 3 years running with broken bones, they were banned from holding the match ever again.

      1. JustaTech*

        That seems to be a theme with a lot of these stories: it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

  29. Lynn*

    This is relatively tame, but several years ago, my friend planned a team builder for her group (1 director, 4 managers, ~20 individual contributors). She and her planning team decided on an escape room. They had several rooms and mixed ICs across teams and put all the managers & director together. All the IC rooms finished early and huddled around the manager room to listen to them struggle and all try to lead each other. It is still one of her favorite memories at work.

    1. Nyankh*

      LOLOLOL I love this. My director used the escape room event as team building also. She put all the people she liked on her team and then the people who weren’t her favorites on the other. I made it onto the favored team (not sure if it was because they had one more spot opened or if I was favored) along with two of her managers, and the senior team member. We made it out but only after using all 3 clue opportunities. The other team? Well one of them told me that they were laughing over being in the excluded group, but it lit their competitive fires. Had a great escape time with only one clue. Director had major cat-butt face when she found out and was snippy all through the drinks portion.

  30. Sarah*

    I shall give the perspective of BEING the person who gets oddly competitive at work events…I began my career in a very blunt, cutthroat industry with a sarcastic, blue-collar culture (okay, fine, it’s newspaper journalism) and adapting my communications norms to the softer expectations of my current workplace has been a challenge. It’s actually a bit of a relief when we have events where I can just let my hair down and focus on winning and being a bit aggressive. All the circumlocution and politeness required by work can be tiring in its own way, to a certain kind of person.

    1. Older and bolder*

      I get that. I moved from the northern US to a southern state. I didn’t know the norms, like this. If you need a ride, and I offer a ride, you must refuse the ride twice. You can accept the third offer. I learned this from a friend after I left another friend “stranded”.
      I found these norms (taken all together) exhausting. I have been known to ask if someone needs a ride and then say “just pretend this is the third time I’m asking, okay?” So I understand you wanting the world to “fit” your way sometimes.

      1. Xenia*

        Oh my gosh. I have a family member who does this. Great dude, successful business guy. But he is definitely a Midwesterner and will sometimes do this! It’s funny to watch the first time but utterly exhausting otherwise.

      2. AntsOnMyTable*

        This would be hard for me. Because I really don’t want to give you a ride (I hate driving) so if you say no I am going to gladly accept it and not keep pushing.

  31. Jay*

    I teach high school kids and our advisory challenge last year was collecting cans for the hunger drive.

    Advisory with most cans wins.

    We’re a little short of winning, so I go over to KMart and drop $50 to push us over the top.

    We won.

    Never told the kids.

    1. bubbleon*

      This is the opposite of being a sore winner, or you’d have had them making signs in your honor :p

    2. Cordoba*

      I work with a guy who uses a similar story from when he was an engineering student as a work example.

      A campus organization was doing a food drive, where the team who brought the most food won. “Most food” in this case was determined by just putting a given team’s donation on a big scale; highest weight wins.

      His team of engineering students went to the grocery store with a calculator and a scale, and figured out that generic canned broth was the most efficient food in terms of $ per total mass because when they weigh the whole thing you *also* get credit for the heavy steel can.

      His team then purchased and donated several hundred pounds of canned broth and easily won the competition. Apparently as the organizers were giving them their T-shirts or whatever the prize was they even told the team “You guys really missed the point of this”.

      He tells this story at work as an example of the need to set metrics that encourage the behavior/outcome you actually want to see.

      1. Box of Kittens*

        I want to know what the food bank employees thought when they received pounds and pounds of broth.

        1. DerJungerLudendorff*

          Possibly concern about transportation, and some annoyance that they got so much of a single cheap foodstuff (poor people deserve to have a good diet too)

      2. Square Root of Minus One*

        The art of setting the right metric in one story. Thank you.
        That could be a great roundup by Allison. Metrics gone Awry.
        I don’t know if it has happened already, I’ll look it up.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Oh man, you could just use my current depart as one giant “metrics gone awry” case study. We track EVERYTHING to the point where some days I spend more time tracking/updating metrics than I do working.

      3. Mr. Cholmondley Warner*

        “He tells this story at work as an example of the need to set metrics that encourage the behavior/outcome you actually want to see.”

        He learned something from this. That deserves respect

    3. NerdyPrettyThings*

      I didn’t think I had one, but this reminded me. I used to teach at a high school that did a canned food drive around Christmas every year. The homeroom class with the most canned goods donated would get donuts one morning from the principal. One very competitive colleague taught AP Calculus first period, so his homeroom was much smaller than required classes like, say, PE or English. He complained to anyone who would listen about how unfair it was, he tried to get the drive changed to another class period (what kids want to carry canned goods in their backpack until third period?), and he even offered extra points to his students to bring in canned goods until the principal shut that down because it’s considered grade inflation in my state to give points for non-academic activities. We thought he’d let it go after it was over, but the next year he asked for his AP Cal class to be moved to another period so it wouldn’t happen again.

      1. Xenia*

        I had a similarly competitive teacher, except he put his money where his mouth was. Literally. The food bank accepted both cans and cash, so at the start of the food drive he’d promise us that he’d match any donations made dollar for dollar. His class always won, and he’d donate 200-300$ every year. Best possible outcome IMO.

  32. RC Rascal*

    My old industry had an annual conference that included a golf outing. I was playing in the same foursome as my Jerk Boss and he had a meltdown over a bad shot and threw his club. It so happened the conference assigned an employee of our biggest competitor to the same foursome (they aren’t really supposed to do that), so he did this in front of a competitor.

    Fast forward to the next year. I signed us up for the tournament but neglected to turn in the form stating golf partner/foursome preferences. The conference split us up; I ended up with 3 strangers. We had a great time, networked, and I played freakishly well. Someone I knew was in the same foursome as Jerk Boss. Afterwards, the acquaintance commented to me that Jerk Boss wasn’t a lot of fun to play with.

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      If I were the employee from the competitor, I would file away the knowledge that Jerk Boss must be no fun to work for, so the next time my company needed new talent, the first place I would look would be Jerk Boss’s team. Because presumably, they’re all looking to get away from him.

  33. Anon because who knows, someone might remember this*

    I was once charged with coming up with teambuilding/icebreaking activities for a staff retreat (never again; I will fake my own death first). I found an idea for a team scavenger hunt where the items were things people would have on their person, which forced you to talk to people and see if they had any of the items. You didn’t have to take the item from them, your team just had to write “Jane Smith has a pack of Juicy Fruit gum” on their form. One extremely competitive person took issue with my list, saying “Nobody here has a g-d Mickey Mouse watch! We’re all adults!” Well, at least a dozen people (including me) were wearing Mickey Mouse watches that day, but I don’t think he bothered to ask anyone, since no “adults” would have them. Anyway. The location was remote, but he skipped lunch so he could drive to the nearest convenience store and buy one of the items on the list. There were no prizes, people. He did this for the glory of winning. And he still didn’t win. If only he’d asked me if I had a g-d Mickey Mouse watch.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Dang, I really like this scavenger hunt idea, but humans gotta ruin everything…

    2. Mr. Cholmondley Warner*

      We had a scavenger hunt like that. The clues were things like “This person spent 6 months in Antactica” or “this person speaks fluent Portuguese”. Then you had to go to that person’s office to find the Thing. So the point of the game was to know your co-workers. It was actually a cool idea, and I was kind of shocked to see how little people knew about each other. I’m the least social person I know, and I knew pretty much all the answers.

      1. allathian*

        Ah, but less talkative people are often good listeners, while the talkers only want to hear their own voice and rarely care what anyone else is saying. I’m a chatty introvert, and have been told that I need to listen to others more, but when I get going on my high horse, it may take a while to get me to stop, and until I do, I won’t hear what anyone else is saying. This is far from an admirable trait, so I’m working on both proactively listening to others and on curbing my tendency to talk too much.

  34. Keymaster of Gozer*

    The director who held a massive team building event for our entire department (IT) but featured us all in contests against each other (Testing v Dev. 2nd Tier Support vs First Tier Support etc.) and they were all physical contests. Outside. in September. in the UK (rain. so much rain).

    My boss was absolutely obsessed with the idea of those of us in Central Support (3rd tier) winning. Obsessed. We were subject to him singing show tunes at us to ‘motivate’ us, fist bumps, you name it. I pointed out that I simply couldn’t do half of this stuff, I don’t do much physical exercise anyway and add to it a bad back at the time..

    He went into a full temper tantrum. Climbed up and down a climbing wall 5 times to show me ‘it’s perfectly doable’. No matter, two of us sat out the entire event due to not wanting to end up in A&E. Central Support did not win.

    Manager sang songs about ‘losers’ for weeks after, tried to bully me and Dave (the other coworker who sat out) into ‘going to the gym for next time’, tried to rile us up against the other IT Departments for doing better than us (didn’t work, IT as a whole got on pretty well).

    All over a one day event.

  35. Jonaessa*

    Pre-pandemic, our department hosted a Dessert Bakeoff to coincide with our Winter Holiday Luncheon. My BFF coworker and I (both staff members) had been doing this about ten years when Lonnie (auxiliary) started working in our department. He is “that guy.” You know the one. He thinks he knows everything and will tell you all about how he does know everything even though you didn’t ask because well…he knows everything. Bragged about how he would be staff within a year (which never happens) and wouldn’t you know? He’s still an auxiliary.

    But back to the bakeoff. BFF and I prepare the tables, appoint the impartial judges from other facilities, print the score sheets, and get ready to go. Prizes include bakeware, baking mixes, utensils, etc. No cash or gift cards because my BFF and I pay for this with our own money. (I’m a couponer and we work for the state. There are no funds for prizes.) We have about 30 entries, including Lonnie. I cannot remember what he made, but regardless of the entries or who we get to judge, it seems like a cheesecake always wins. He did not make cheesecake.

    My duty after the judging began was to gather score cards and tabulate them in an Excel spreadsheet–let the computer do all the work. Once the winners were announced, he cornered me, a heavily pregnant, slow to escape woman and asked why he didn’t win. I told him that I didn’t know why, but I could tell him what place he received–9th. After the luncheon, he came by my office, threw his empty bowl at me–a non-judge who had nothing to do with the actual scoring of the desserts–and screamed, “Does that look like 9th place to you?!?” I was so shocked that I just sat there. He grabbed the bowl and left.

    I can neither confirm nor deny that his dessert has never and will never win a bakeoff.

    1. Artemesia*

      He needs to be assigned to watch the Great British Baking Show non stop for the next year until he grows up. ( I understand his pain — my wonderful mojito cake did not win and a simple drop cookie that took no effort did — but grownups don’t show their disappointment over something like this)

      1. Mockingjay*

        During a department potluck a few years ago, I lost the chili cookoff to an entry that looked, smelled, and tasted exactly like a can of Hormel chili. But a lot of people like Hormel chili, so who cares? (Okay, I care a tiny bit. But for gosh sakes I’m a grownup. I’ll live with the disappointment in silence.) There was a ton of other really good food and I ate until I had to waddle back to my desk.

      2. Self Employed*

        Back in the Before Times, my apartment complex had a pumpkin pie baking contest and it was right on the rules you had to have baked it yourself. I knew we had a couple of professional cooks in the building, but figured I might as well show up and participate because I don’t show up to bingo or other events I just can’t stand. It’s a good thing I had low expectations, however, because I hadn’t baked a pie in an electric oven and managed to burn the edges. I brought both pies because I didn’t really want them myself (plan A was to keep one, enter the other).

        My sad, burned pies were the only ones not disqualified for “obviously bought from the grocery around the corner”. The professionals wasted a lot of pie ingredients trying to bake an un-scorched pie in the same junky apartment ovens and were too ashamed to enter. I felt bad for them. But I thought it was hilarious that I won because I was the only one who bothered to follow the rules yet gave no f**** that my crust was burned.

        One of my neighbors pulled me aside to make SURE I knew that my pie sucked and it only won because nobody else entered. I told him that’s why I was laughing. (This was still better than being accused of wanting to do X-rated things to Hillary Clinton or urged to “protest in the street so a truck will run you over” as he had at previous parties. Yeah, there’s a reason I’m generally too busy washing my hair OR WORKING during parties at my building.)

    2. JustaTech*


      I’ve lost a cooking competition and felt pretty bad about it. Mostly I was mad that I was obligated to enter the chili contest, as a member of the social committee, even though I don’t like or make spicy food. And while everyone agreed that my mild chili was nice to eat, it still hurt to have it come in stone cold dead last. Twice.

      The first year I went home and cried. The second year, knowing I would lose, I was just annoyed. So when I was told I had to do it again I decided to follow the letter but not the spirit of the competition, and made a curry (also not spicy). It’s a stew with beans and spices, what’s wrong with that?

      But to throw something? At someone? Good lord, what was wrong with Lonnie?

      1. allathian*

        What happened after that? Was your entry disqualified because it was a curry rather than chili?

        In your shoes, I’d probably either ask to sit the competition out the following year or simply resign from the social committee. Surely it’s not a thing that you need to do for as long as you’re working for that employer?

        1. JustaTech*

          It wasn’t disqualified, thought it didn’t win either (totally fine by me). The whole chili contest was a fundraiser for a support organization for the disease we work on, so you voted for “best chili” by sticking money in a jar by the chili of your choice.

          Since it was intended to be a fund raiser and all in good fun, and because my curry was very popular, the social committee decided that the next year it would be a “chili and soup” tasting event. Sadly that was supposed to be in 2020, and the rules may have changed about how we’re allowed to do fundraisers, but hopefully when we’re all back we’ll do it just for fun because a lot of people talked about the really interesting soups they wanted to make and bring (I hate beets, but I’m willing to brave them to try my Ukrainian coworker’s mother’s borsch).

  36. LivingRoomHR*

    I’ve always appreciated working on teams with people who self-identity as being both competitive AND bad at whatever the competition is in. Makes for lots of good smack talking banter without any actual attachment to winning.

    1. Amy Santiago too*

      I love this comment! I may steal this idea. Can we come up with a competition where everyone is terrible? Hmmmmm.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        How about a 5-leg race? Like a 3-leg race, but with 3 people? Or even 4?

        Or kids’ games. Tiddlywinks, Hungry Hungry Hippo. Or using potato guns to pop balloon targets?

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I like the Hungry Hungry Hippo idea, since that’s not really something you can actually get good at (I don’t think), so you can compete, but it’s random.

        2. Glitsy Gus*

          We had a work even at this ranch that included a sling shot range. That was a lot of fun because, I mean, who is an expert at sling shots?? Sure, some folks were better than others, but it did take away a lot of the angry competition because it was a fun but low stakes thing that pretty much everyone had to learn more-or-less from scratch.

    2. Bryce*

      I love a good banter but it’s SO easy to get wrong. If both sides aren’t pushing the same amount (and onboard with doing so) it just winds up bullying.

    3. Rock Prof*

      I get like this about trivia. Everyone thinks I should be good at trivia, I guess, because I’m a professor, and I’m fairly competitive, but I’m self-admittedly terrible at trivia! No one ever believes that though, until I just end up heckling myself the entire time and doing terribly (while generally having a good time).

  37. SaffyTaffy*

    I used to work in an office where two secretaries were very similar- same first name, hair style, same number of children- but one grew up on our town’s South Side and one on the West Side, and they had had beef over the high school basketball teams since they were teenagers. They pretty obviously disliked one another and that dislike spread to the entire department each one represented. So Doris would say that Bertha’s whole department were idiots, and Bertha blamed everything from bad weather to the housing crisis on Doris and her department.
    We had one of those competitions where each department chose a charity, decorated a 5-gallon water bottle, and then all month we’d empty our spare change into the bottles, and whoever had the heaviest (HEAVIEST, not most-valuable) bottle at the end of the month won an ice cream buffet.
    Looking back I wonder if Doris had this gambit all figured out. She ignored the charity all month, or at least didn’t promote it much and didn’t do her usual schtick of bullying people to participate. And then the morning of the weigh-in, she dumped $45 in rolls of pennies into her department’s bottle. Talking loudly about it the whole time, FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS THIS IS FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS YOU CAN’T BEAT THAT.
    Doris’s department won. And Doris doesn’t like ice cream, so she apparently just sat with everyone and talked nonstop about how it was HER ICE CREAM because she won the competition and everyone needed to thank her. Supposedly she actually said “I don’t want ice cream so come make Bertha kiss my @$$ because I won, that’s my prize” to her boss. It’s definitely the sort of thing she’d say, so I choose to believe it.

  38. Elle Woods*

    Many years ago I worked at a company that hosted a company-wide softball tournament each summer. I was part of a group of colleagues who played together for a few years in a city rec league, so we had experience under our belts and played well as a team. We signed up for the company tournament and played our way to the championship game. The team we faced was out for blood and embodied poor sportsmanship in every way. It wound up being a close game and our team was on the losing end. The other team refused to shake hands with us after the game, hurled insults at us, made vulgar comments about the women on our team, and threatened the umps, amongst other things.

    On Monday, the daily company-wide newsletter went out with announcements, reminders, etc. It included a note about thanking all those who participated in the tournament, congratulated the winning team, and mentioned our team for coming in second. The employee who considered himself the captain of the winning team pitched such a fit about the “losers” being mentioned in the company-wide newsletter that he wound up with a reprimand in his HR file and was ordered to attend anger management classes.

  39. avocadolime*

    At a previous non-profit job, our boss decided two days before an online fundraiser that staff would be be involved and competing for the most donations made under their name. (The prize was a gift card, and there was a jokey “if you can’t get even one donation, then YOU have to buy the gift card ha ha ha” message included.) This was very obviously a bad idea and was cancelled the next day–all staff were told they didn’t have to participate, although the staff member in charge of the fundraiser obviously was still involved. At a board meeting a few weeks later the staff member in charge of the fundraiser bragged about winning the fundraising competition and, I found out later, had in fact received a gift card. No other staff member had participated.

  40. Kramerica Industries*

    I worked at a tech bro kind of startup before. The CEO would dare people to eat crazy amounts of food in a certain time for cash prizes (anywhere from $100 to $2000 depending on the challenge). There was one time that we were out at a restaurant and the CEO dared someone to down 12 sushi rolls in 10 minutes, no water allowed. As we’re all obnoxiously cheering on this one girl who is stuffing herself with sushi, the restaurant manager had to come by and take away our sushi…most likely because they were afraid she would choke.

    In hindsight, I’m glad someone was being the adult there because it certainly wasn’t us in that toxic environment.

      1. KateM*

        There’s an eating competition for a local Specialty on our county fair each year (except 2020). You pay for your entry. There are always people who just figure out how much of Specialty they should eat for it to pay (and considering that Specialty stalls tend to have really long queues, this isn’t a bad idea to guarantee yourself a portion), and then they sit and eat peacefully, with fork and knife and table napkins, while others are stuffing their faces with both hands (figuratively speaking).

        1. SaffyTaffy*

          KateM, Where do you live? I am vaccinated and I will come to your town. I love eating contests, don’t ask me why, and we don’t have any in my town.

    1. JustaTech*

      We did an eating competition at work that started off as fun and lighthearted and went, sideways.

      For our Oktoberfest party one year someone decided we would have a hot-sauce eating competition. Completely optional (thank goodness, I can’t eat spice).
      So we start with a big group and mild hot sauce and it goes from there, not milk or water allowed, tap out at any time. There was a single gift card ($50?) as the prize. So people tapping out left and right, red faced but laughing. Everyone’s having a good time. Until it’s down to two people and the final hot sauce, some pure capsaicin thing called “The Source” that has an honest-to-god warning label on it.

      The last two people (a guy and a gal, but mid-career) take their toothpick drop of this stuff. And neither quits. Uh, now what? Two drops. Neither quits. The guy running the competition is looking worried because the bottle says not to eat more than 3 drops in a day. Normal people would say “yay, a tie!” But there’s only one gift card. So one of the bosses keeps urging them on. About half the audience is expressing concern for the competitor’s health (though they both look cool as cucumbers). Finally someone starts literally passing a hat to get enough money to count up to a second gift card. A more senior person strolls through, looks at the whole tableaux and says “I’ll get you another gift card tomorrow” to stop the carnage.

      One competitor threw up in the bushes on his way to the bus. The other was up all night with GI distress.

      And that was the last hot sauce eating competition.

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        Wow. I will never understand that level of competitiveness!

        1. JustaTech*

          I think there was a level of cultural pride on the line as well (both of the last people standing are from cultures with a tradition of extremely spicy food).

          In normal working life neither of them is competitive at all!

  41. mcfizzle*

    A few years ago, our department banded together with a few others in the building to host a silent auction to benefit the local food bank. Each item had a sheet next to it starting with a 10 cent bid, and people could keep upping the bid on the sheet if they wanted that item. Note: most were going for somewhere between $1-15, so we’re not talking huge sums of money.
    One female coworker, who has very serious anger issues anyways, had made it ridiculously clear she wanted this (rather hideous) doily. She literally stood over the doily and glared at anyone who dared to look at it.
    As a joke, when angry coworker left for a few minutes, someone went over and put her name down for the doily and upped the bid to a whopping $1.
    When said angry coworker came back and saw someone had added a new bid, she completely lost it. LOST IT. She started screaming at the top of her lungs about how “this is HERS!! and HOW DARE someone put in another bid”. She then escalated to physically pummeling the coworker on her shoulder and back. Repeatedly. In front of multiple departments (30 people?). Angry coworker was physically escorted out.
    We have not had anything remotely competitive here ever since. And I’ve often wondered what happened to the doily, but am too chicken to ask.

      1. mcfizzle*

        Not fired, shockingly. I actually had that in the original comment, but then it made me mad and got me on a tangent. She actually still works here, though is currently full-time remote.
        She was out the next day, came in the day after, but was clearly in some one-on-one “training” for the next few days. She also publically apologized to the coworker and gave her a card and some kind of present. Honestly, I think the apology was real, but the act was so egregious that I don’t see how any apology could be sufficient. I think she only kept her job because the assaulted coworker is usually really laid back, and didn’t make a big deal about it.
        It just shocks me that she flipped out over $1. And it wasn’t even the end of the bidding! And it was for charity! Come on!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        To me this reads if she simply went to a $1.10 she would have won the bid. She could have said, “Hahahaha, that is funny! Here’s a five [or a ten]. KEEP the change for charity.”

        I see a lot of this by me here, people win a pot of cash in a 50/50 and they donate their winnings to the same charity. This is especially heart filling when other winners do the same, such as tractor pulls where one winner after another simply signs over their winnings to the beneficiary of the pull.

  42. Cordoba*

    I once worked at a small-ish company that had a pretty good recreational softball team. Enough so that they won the local league and were invited to the state competition a few hours away.

    They all just drove themselves and provided their own equipment, because it’s just rec league softball.

    When they got to the state tournament, there was a Big (national-name) Corporation who sent a team on a big bus labeled “Big Company Softball”. On this bus was all-new gear and a bunch of early-twenties college-ish athletes who had positions like “supply consultant” and “marketing intern” at Big Company. They of course proceeded to wipe the floor with all the teams that were made up of random groups of office workers.

    That’s right, Big Company bought a custom bus and hired a bunch of ringers to win a state softball tournament for no practical benefit whatsoever. We later found out that the VP who ran the company in that part of the country was a former college baseball player who almost went pro but didn’t make it. I wonder if there’s a connection there…

    1. Sleepless*

      That sort of reminds me of the small story arc they had on LA Law about the firm’s intramural basketball team. They kept losing to a rival law firm, and then they happened to interview a new grad who had been a college basketball star. He really had no other strengths. They hired him, beat the other law firm, and when the dude turned out to be as much of a dud as they expected, they fired him.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      Kansas City had a charity corporate olympic style event during the summers (don’t know if they still do or not, this about 10-15 years ago). Anyway, companies would pay a big fee and then their employees would participate in events, everything from basketball/soccer to track and field/swimming to horseshoes/darts. Your company would compete in your class which was based on employee count for the company and # of registered participants

      My company was small so we were in the bottom league. But some of the big guys… holy buckets did they take this seriously… I am not kidding when I think I ran the 50 meter dash against a real olympic track runner. The big companies would hold tryouts for their employees to determine who would represent them (yes there were rumors of ‘consultants’ being hired) … haha at my company we were the ones running around the day before saying “Hey Fergus, c’mon we need another person for the table tennis event tomorrow! please please show up”

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      Wow, I wonder if the team of ringers got paid for their services and if so, whether the VP expensed it.

      1. Mockingdragon*

        This sounded like I didn’t believe you – what I meant was how crazy are people to literally steal a move from Monty Burns? XD

  43. CloudCow*

    We were doing an Xmas Yankee swap at work with a team that ranged from low paid temp workers to the VP. The rules for stealing weren’t well established and the bottles of alcohol were highly prized, so every turn started with a 5+ minute reshuffling of bottles as the first action was always stealing an existing bottle, which set off a frenzy of re-stealing past bottles until there were no steals left.

    The swap was fairly large with around 8-10 bottles of alcohol, so while it was funny at first, after awhile most of us were ready for the game to be over. All of us, that is, except for this tight group intent on getting booze and keeping the stealing going. It gets to the last round, and a director named Doris is holding some $10 bottle of Chardonnay. Sansa, a freelancer has just gotten her gift stolen, so she’s deciding what to do.

    Now, mind you, Doris earned 4x what Sansa was earning. And Jane, the VP, had already graciously taken one of the “bad” gifts to help move the game along. But Doris didn’t care—she started carrying on about how she NEEDS this wine for a dinner after work and how she would be upset if Sansa takes it. All the while overzealously guarding the bottle and shooting “crazy eyes” at Sansa.

    Sansa got the hint, and gave up, opening the last gift rather than fighting Doris. Meanwhile Doris started carrying on about how great it was that she won the gift she wanted. It backfired on her though, as the team saw how she treated Sansa, and no one felt terribly bad when a few months later Doris was transferred off to a worse job at another division.
    Meanwhile, Sansa is still with our group and now has a FT job.

    1. KH*

      Cringe worthy of my own: When I was an officer in the Navy, the Admin departments at my training center would get together for a holiday swap event. One year, someone brought a talking mistletoe that they got at Spencer’s. After the third steal, a present couldn’t be stolen anymore. Many rounds later, I just had my present stolen, and the mistletoe was on the second steal. I went over, grabbed it, and shouted “third steal, it’s mine!” At the top of my lungs. While people laughed, I later got a reminder from my boss about proper decorum. I learned my lesson on that, but still got a great gift the next year.

  44. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

    I got weirdly competitive about the weekly company Scrabble game!

    Every Thursday 3-8 of us would play Scrabble at lunchtime. My first game, I lost dismally with about 30 points and I was super annoyed. (I didn’t moan or get angry with anyone.) One of my good friends is actually a competitive Scrabble player and won a TV gameshow based on anagrams and number puzzles (Countdown for those in the UK!) so I asked him for a bit of help

    From then on I got a Scrabble app for my phone and laptop, read books about Scrabble and watched a few Scrabble documentaries. I even got a set of flash cards so I could practice learning all the Scrabble-legal two- and three-letter words (AA, AB, AD, AE, AG …). I rode the bus to work flicking through the cards and started to get better.

    My scores increased. People would warn each other, “watch out, she’ll play one of her crazy words and score 35 points!” I absolutely ruled one game where I managed to play ‘DIZZY’ and ‘HIPPIES’ for a great score.

    I left that job soon after (perhaps I felt I had nowhere to go but down?) and only play Scrabble at Xmas now. My competitive side surfaces occasionally at treasure hunts, crazy golf and bowling, but never to the same degree again!

    1. 1098, 1099. Whatever.*

      This reminds me of the summer I spent on the cleaning staff at a resort in a national park. Since we were in the middle of nowhere all us college student employees spent all our time together after work. One of the guys got a hearts game going, and most evenings there would be a group of us sitting around a table playing cards. Well, this guy was stupidly competitive over the game and would rub it into everyone’s faces when he won, which was most of the time as he was pretty good at the game. I found this annoying, so I started working on getting better at the game with the goal of beating him. I improved rapidly and soon got to the point where I was winning almost every game. Most importantly I was beating him every time. The stupidly competitive guy stop playing at that point. So did I, actually. The whole thing had become so much about beating him that I lost interest when he quit.

  45. Damn it, Hardison!*

    My manager, my teammate, and I were participating in a team-building exercise with several consultants as part of a project that was being “reset” (read: going off the rails). During the exercise my manager was yelling at me about not “doing it right,” including asking if I was stupid. You know, as one does when trying to build a healthy work team (the difficulty of everyone doing it right in unison was the point of the exercise). Mind you, this involved 8 people and there were no prizes at the end, so her behavior was out of proportion. This was only one of many, many such incidents so I wasn’t too upset about it. I was not sorry later when that manager was let go. I continued to work with the consultants after she departed, and was so gratified when one of them brought up the incident and remarked that it told them all they needed to know about my manager, and that they were impressed with how I handled her in the moment but also in general. I was so happily surprised that they saw her her behavior as really out of line, as I was really conditioned to it and didn’t realize that other people viewed her actions as beyond the pale. (More stories and words of encouragement came from other colleagues after her departure as well, which was so nice of them).

  46. Rusty Shackelford*

    I used to play Words With Friends with a coworker who I assume was using some kind of app to help her come up with words. I mean, she was weirdly, inhumanly good. I’m a reader and she regularly used words I’d never seen in print. I stopped because it just wasn’t fun to play against a computer. I’m not sure what she got out of it.

    1. Lacey*

      Yes, I had a friend who did that. It wasn’t enjoyable for me and I don’t understand how it was a game for her.

    2. Al*

      My grandma is not a reader and does not have an impressive day-to-day vocabulary. But after decades of playing Boggle, she has a VAST knowledge of which letter combinations are actually archaic or uncommon words. She doesn’t know what they mean. But by golly, she knows they’re words!

    3. Bryce*

      Way back in high school I was playing chess online (for class, when the chess coach is the programming teacher and you’ve learned every official language covered and some extras things get a bit freeform) one guy braggged after beating me that I made every move the book he was using listed counters to. I said “I guess the book beat me then not you” and he WENT OFF. First guy I ever reported for online harassment.

      1. Yessica Haircut*

        That is a fantastic comeback! And, honestly, you were right! I don’t know why he felt like he should be proud of his win given the circumstances.

  47. The Starsong Princess*

    I’m not proud of this but after 12 years of participating in the firm United Way bingo, I was getting increasingly bitter about winning zip. Zero for 12 years. Then last year, after purchasing $15 worth of cards, I won a $5 coffee card. I was completely delighted and did a happy dance. My bingo dreams fulfilled!

  48. meyer lemon*

    My previous job used to hold what had to be the most Canadian competition of all time. There were a lot of bakers on staff, so we would hold an annual, friendly baking contest, where bakers had fun making lavish desserts and everyone got to have some cake with their lunch. Pretty low-key. The newest employees (or guests to the office if there were any) were always asked to judge so that there was less pressure on them to contribute. But they were so polite and hesitant to offend anyone that the competition was invariably a twenty-way tie, with the winner beating everyone else by a single point. Didn’t matter who the judges were, the outcome was always the same.

    1. KateM*

      Year after year, and nobody clued in that pressure of possible contribution would probably have been more welcome than pressure of obligatory criticizing their bosses’ desserts?

      1. Yessica Haircut*

        I have to agree that if I were a new hire at a company, being asked to literally judge my colleagues and superiors would probably send me hyperventilating into a paper bag.

  49. EEB*

    I once worked at a small nonprofit where the CEO would write a poem every time an employee left the organization or had a birthday or other life milestone. She would then read the poem at the employee’s going away or birthday party. I assume it started as a way to honor longtime employees and remind them of inside jokes, but the CEO also insisted on doing it for, say, interns who’d been at the organization for two months who she barely knew. She’s often dash off the poem in a few minutes, and they could be unbearably, cringily awful.

    I had one coworker who was witty and a good writer. When her good work friend left, she decided to write a poem that was amazing, really sweet and funny. Everyone congratulated the coworker on her impressive poem.

    The CEO got SO MAD. She didn’t say anything nice to my coworker and got super huffy and snarky. I don’t think poems from other people were officially banned, but we all got the message that that was meant to be her thing going forward.

    1. GoryDetails*

      OK, for some reason the poem-owning CEO is my favorite of this post so far – it’s so bizarre a thing to do in the first place and then take jealous ownership of, while having nothing at all to do with the job…

      1. Artemesia*

        It is super common for a person to feel they own some little tradition or activity. I am not surprised. After all, how often do people write poems for co-workers. Would it have happened if the CEO had not made that a thing — and it thus became ‘their thing.’ Predictable.

  50. The Latte Factor*

    In a former job, during a multi-day offsite meeting, our team went to a local bowling alley. I am terrible at bowling (I scored 4 during a game – no joke) but I still like to play.

    We split into two teams and one of the men on my team (Cliff) was on a competitive bowling league at the time. I didn’t know Cliff all that well, and certainly didn’t know how competitive he was about the sport.

    We play. People are drinking, joking and generally having a good time. I bowl terribly but laugh it off. At the end of the game, Cliff marches over to me and screams at me for “not taking this seriously.” It goes on for a few minutes. When he finally stops, I calmly tell him that it’s just for fun and if it’s really that big of a deal, I will sit out the next game so the “serious” bowlers can play.

    After the show Cliff put on, no one wanted to play because they were afraid of what he might do. We awkwardly huddled around the appetizers, sipped our domestic beers, and counted down the minutes until we could leave.

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      I think I bowled with Cliff’s less competitive, wannabe bowling teacher at a sales team event. It is difficult to be any good at bowling when you bowl maybe once a year. My team’s Cliff decided to coach all of us on each roll of the ball, after the roll. About 6 frames into the game I told Cliff that I did not sign up for bowling lessons from him, and this was supposed to be fun. Cliff was then miffed — apparently forcibly coaching people WAS his idea of fun. The rest of us made up our own rules after that. Standing at the line chanting, “8 ball! 8 ball!” High fiving over only one gutter ball in a frame. Making up names — a 7 – 10 split was referred to as “Dracula’s teeth.” Cliff was not happy. The rest of us were.

      1. NYWeasel*

        This is all so wrong. I’m a pretty serious bowler—average 170+ when I’m regularly bowling. When I’m at work bowling events I do things to make it more fun for my coworkers. For example, if I think that two coworkers will net out to ~160 pins, I let them gang up on me. Or I have them make bets on whether I’ll pick up spares. That’s the cool thing about bowling—bc the handicaps are pretty easy to suss out for new bowlers, you can quickly figure out a way to make it more equitable across skill levels.

    2. lolz*

      I, too, am remarkably bad at bowling.
      My favorite story is : one time, I was casually bowling with my partner (avid and very good bowler) and his family (also avid, different levels of skill) and on my first turn, I guttered.
      This was no normal gutter. I guttered on my right side, the ball LEAPT OVER the division into the next lane over, guttered in that lane’s left gutter, rolled out, traversed the lane and guttered in that lane’s right gutter.

      The lane to my right was not family.

      Three times gutterball, my face beet red, and two lanes having an uproarious laugh.

      1. Might Be Spam*

        I only got two gutterballs at the same time. But to be fair, I did ricochet off a post between the two lanes, to get the second gutterball. It happened thirty years ago at a family reunion and they still won’t let me forget. And it’s a big family.

    3. TobyCat*

      I was hoping there was a bowling thread! At an old job, we had a mandatory team building bowling afternoon. If you didn’t go, you had to stay and work. The sort-of-dim new boss who had organized it told us all at the beginning to keep track of all of the bowling stats, including gutter balls. Obviously, there was going to be a prize for gutter balls! One of my teammates was the QA director who brought his own bowling shoes and bowling ball. He was NOT PLEASED at the quantity of gutter balls I bowled. But I won the prize!

      In high school, I also volunteered to be a team captain for the last unit of the last semester I had to take PE. I chose all of the people who were usually picked last for every team, and we spent those last few weeks merrily hitting the volleyball everywhere except within the court. I remember one of the athletic boys on the other team screaming at us, “YOU’RE NOT TAKING THIS SERIOUSLY!!!1!” Uh, yeah?

    4. ..Kat..*

      I feel for you. Although, I typically score a total score of about 10 per game. If you include the pins I knock down that are not in my lane.

  51. hanya*

    What bothers me is when someone is obviously really competitive and they lose and they throw it out to the winner, “you’re just too competitive, I’m just not competitive like you”. Like it’s an insult when they were the ones going full out at the card game, sports game, trivia, whatever. At a games night once, guys against the gals, we were playing some word game like taboo I think. The guys had some word that they guessed, violin and it was viola, and pleaded close enough we gave it to them. Then we had a word, I think it was something like masseur and we guessed masseuse. We were all saying how oh yeah that’s close. And the guys weren’t giving it to us. One of the ladies in our group piped up, and was pointing out the contradiction of 5 minutes before, close counts. Led by one of the guys, they all start harping and getting mad at why we ladies have to be so competitive and take things too seriously, and how we always want to win, and it’s no fun playing when we are so competitive. We were all being gaslit with what just five minutes ago was the complete opposite situation. That was 20 years ago, and to this day when a guy tries to hurl “you’re just so competitive” as an insult after sulking from a loss, it still wrangles me the wrong way!

    1. Carol*

      Yeah, I’ve known a couple of clearly competitive people who make a very big, self-congratulatory show about how non-competitive they are. I think people who are not generally competitive wouldn’t go around broadcasting it like they deserve a prize.

    2. Billiards15*

      Somewhat ironic that the team being a stickler for an exact answer is complaining that the other team is being too competitive.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      As a professional violist who also plays violin, I kind of love this story. I mean, I hate what those guys were doing and your point is exactly right, but I do love that viola is a word in Taboo. I had no idea, and I do love Taboo!

      (I was going to say that you shouldn’t have given them the point because violin and viola are not remotely similar but of course I know they are in fact extremely similar even though there are many differences too. But most of us violists would never admit it!) (Perhaps I should make this comment anonymous, but eh, I don’t mind (barely) outing myself.)

  52. Name goes here*

    Several years ago I was at an off-site meeting for the Finance function at my large corporation. In the evening after dinner there were cocktails and games available. Pool table, darts and card games. So I was playing poker with a group and the CFO joined the table. Well, several colleagues clearly started folding but no me. If I have a good hand I’m going to play. Let’s just say this little ole HR rep kicked the CFOs butt. haha

    It was not real money and he took it well, but from then on everyone called me a shark!

  53. Imakesigns*

    At a previous job we had a regional meeting at which we had a “field day” teambuilding event that had mostly low-stakes activities like egg and spoon races and hula hooping contests. For some reason it also included a volleyball tournament that I was assigned to (you couldn’t pick your own event) by my district manager because “I used to play softball” and those are apparently similar sports? (Obviously they are not and I hate and know nothing about volleyball). Our team of course made it to the final game (multiple teams played and if you lost you were out) during which we played an INCREDIBLY competitive team consisting of all large men (I’m a woman, small and was young 20s at the time) who you would have thought were playing in the Olympics by their seriousness and aggressiveness. I tried to mostly just hide on the court and stay away from the ball until there was a minute or so left in the game (I was TERRIFIED) when I was forced to rotate to the front of the net. An extremely competitive person on the other team spiked the ball super super hard INTO MY FACE. Think a Marsha Brady getting hit with the football “oh my nose!” moment. I ran off the court to the nearby bathroom in tears, incredibly embarrassed and so angry! I ended up being mostly fine – somehow only had a fat lip and some cuts inside my mouth, but it was horrifying as at least 100 people were watching. Subsequently after I left the game, they kept playing and someone on the competitive team blew out their knee and had to have surgery on his ACL. Needless to say, the company never had a teambuilding event like that again.

    1. Liz*

      OMG that’s almost identical to my jr. high gym story i posted above! small, skinny 7th grader girl gets spiked in the face by a HUGE 9th grade boy. knocked me down and acorss the floor and broke my glasses. Come to think of it, i probably had a nosebleed too. since that day i ahve HATED and DESPISED volleyball.

      1. Imakesigns*

        This makes me feel so much less alone! And this happening in middle school, which is just hell on Earth anyways, ugh. Volleyball haters unite!

  54. Nora*

    The only thing I’m competitive about in my entire life is office potlucks. Thankfully this only results in me producing increasingly elaborate desserts (with varying degrees of success), so really, everyone wins.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      Same here – I live for the moment I walk into the quad carrying a tray or container or crock pot, and people converge from all directions saying things like “ooooo, what did you make THIS time, I can’t wait for lunch!” No prizes involved, but it makes my entire week to know that my coworkers get that much enjoyment out of something I made.

    2. Artemesia*

      you are the joy of every potluck; not my thing but I was better paid than the office staff and so I always brought a big bucket of fried chicken as meat/main dishes tended to be thin on the ground. Win-win.

    3. LQ*

      This reminds me of a positive competitive fall out. Someone on my team would have a family competition for best dessert at thanksgiving every year and she would spend the months before practicing making them and bringing them in, and then in the years she lost (it was a very elaborate competition with blind judging that she tried to get us to do one year) she would remake several other people’s and so we’d get a december’s worth of dishes too. It was great.

  55. Lygeia*

    We had a scavenger hunt style competition at my office one summer. We took the whole afternoon, split into teams, and had to complete tasks. It was great fun! One of my coworkers on a different team than mine got SUPER competitive. His team came in last, and he spent the next week trying to prove that the order his team had needed to complete the tasks in had put them at a time disadvantage. He wrote a program to show that they’d had to walk farther. The funniest part was that the differences wound up being minuscule so even his “proof” fell through.

    The prize was a free lunch.

  56. irene adler*

    The CFO here at work is very materialistic. She always buying very expensive things. She makes a big deal out of showing off her Mercedes, pics of her trips to Hawaii, commissioned paintings on her office walls, and flashy jewelry. And telling us the price of each. All we employees can do is nod and smile and admire her purchases. We don’t have the income for such things. So, no competition there.

    It is important to her to own the most expensive car in the company parking lot. She actually surveys the vehicles and revels in the fact that her high-end Mercedes is more expensive than any other car in the lot. She even asks folks about their cars (model, year) if she’s not sure of their value (like the CEO’s Porsche). Then she looks them up on-line to ascertain their original value.

    Then one fine day…I purchased a Lexus.

    Needed to; the old truck I was driving was getting on in years.

    Yeah, it is top-of-the-line. Sports car. The kind I’ve always wanted-and saved for- since the truck was new (20 years prior). And purchased new, it was more expensive than her Mercedes. For 10 years now, she has asked me what year my car is. She’s gotten quite upset because I won’t say. She’s even tried to get others to ask me. But I won’t tell.

    1. Nyankh*

      imagine being so competitive over the cost of a car but know so little about them that you can’t figure out the year/model, smh

    2. Carol*

      So weird when superiors get competitive with people down the chain about status…I had a former director who was all about wealth signaling and moving up the ladder…she would ask me outright if costume jewelry I was wearing was real to confirm that I could not, in fact, afford diamond necklaces. Aggressive, given the power differential. Creepy even if we had been peers.

  57. Tryinghard*

    First day of work for our new staffer and our department decided to do a retreat. It was decided to play human foosball. New staffer got hit in the face with the ball as people were super agressive. Nose had minor crack and glasses needed repairs. We weren’t sure the staffer was coming back the next day. That was an end to physical challenges.

    1. Mimi me*

      My last company did this huge company wide “olympic” day. My team was very competitive, led by one of the most competitive women I’ve ever met in my life. We were doing well until it came down to the Tug of War. The yellow team (not us) had three really heavy guys on their team at the back of the rope. We only had a few fairly thin / muscled guys and women who weren’t interested in being pulled into the dirt. My competitive coworker was a fairly big woman and so decided she should be the anchor. Long story short, she tore her knee apart trying to take down the competition. It was 6 months before she could even come back to work in any capacity and that was in a wheel chair. Her knee was wrecked!!

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Whoa. TIFO (because of this and other comments up above) that tug-of-war is REALLY dangerous. I had no idea!

  58. merp*

    I’m not sure if this is in the same spirit but my manager 2 levels above definitely has to “win” any and all interactions, especially lately. It’s become very clear as we ask for safety accommodations during covid that she takes it as a personal attack that her prior decisions on safety weren’t good enough. She gets defensive and somewhat manipulative – she’ll provide some other accommodation that what we asked for, provide no reasoning about why we can’t have the thing we did ask for, and when we ask about what she provided or point out a potential issue, she’ll do the email equivalent of throwing up her hands and saying “I just don’t know what you want!” It is… exhausting.

  59. Miniature House*

    I worked for a guy who would be infuriated if a client told him how much they enjoyed having me as their veterinarian. He wanted to be the most loved there and couldn’t handle it. Completely insane.

    1. Self Employed*

      Which reminds me… I probably read too much Ask A Manager because when I watched the new BBC/Masterpiece “All Creatures Great and Small” I decided it was a workplace drama. It just happens to be in 1930s Yorkshire and they are treating sick cows instead of grooming llamas.

  60. Abogado Avocado*

    A mid-sized daily newspaper where I once worked as a metro reporter was part of an adult basketball sports league. And, like most newspapers back then, the sports department was, in fact, the former jocks department and so the sports writers tended to populate the paper’s basketball team. Some other reporters and I attended a game to cheer on the team — and we saw that one of our sports writers was so competitive that he criticized his teammates on the court and sulked majorly after the team lost. This was so astonishing and depressing (it was only a game; I don’t even think the league gave out trophies at the end of the season) that I never returned to watch the team play because I feared this guy’s behavior would color my working relationship with him.

  61. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

    So many years ago I worked for the cities professional baseball team as a game day employee. It was more for the fun and hanging out with a very diverse group of people than for the money. Often we would go to a bar after games and drink, socialize and try to get dates.
    Some of the young players would congregate with us as would some of the visiting teams ball players. Word got out that I was very good at Pacman and I would be challenged. It was a best of 3 competition and I always let my challenger win the first game, and then blow them away. There usually wasn’t a third game, my challenger would surrender. Word got out and the visiting team would have it’s best Pacman player challenge me. At first it was for beer, but I got greedy and played for autographed bats. My family room as 22 autographed bats from baseball stars (and some not so stars) from the early 1980’s. The bats are more valuable than the memories, but they are a close second.

  62. Deborah*

    I was hoping this was an update about Ethel!!! OP, if you are out there, please give us some follow up!

  63. Ann O*

    We have an annual Halloween costume competition. The boss is super competitive about it and puts a lot of work into her costumes. She complains quite a bit that she never wins and often campaigns for votes. Then, surprise! She wins, and gushes that she’s so grateful that she finally won after years of trying. Somehow this keeps happening over and over again, like a weird version of Groundhog Day, where every Halloween she can experience winning for the “first time ever.”

    1. Mimi me*

      You should totally dress up as Bill Murray’s character this next Halloween and use that to your amusement

  64. Diatryma*

    I can’t decide how to comment– do I tell stories of myself being competitive, realizing it, and then changing my behavior, thus Winning the stories with my self-awareness? And having said that, do I… double-Win?

    I used to grade standardized tests for a few weeks each year; it was a great job for me and paid really well. I read fast and can sink into a zone pretty easily with the testing format. My second year, I sat next to a guy who commented that he was always the fastest, trying to low-key impress me. I am competitive, but recognize it and have toned it down a lot because it’s hellaciously annoying and no fun for anyone… and also because I didn’t want to interact a ton with this guy. So I didn’t mention that I thought I was pretty fast too.

    A couple days in, our supervisor came over to let me know that I was going really fast, that I was processing more than twice as many responses as the next fastest person in our group, the guy next to me. He did not comment. I Win at standardized tests.

  65. Queer Earthling*

    May I offer the complete opposite? When I worked airport retail, the Corporate Overlords tried to do a competition to see who could produce the longest receipt, and they would win…something, I don’t remember…to try to encourage us to do more upselling/suggestive selling/etc. In addition, our general manager was extremely competitive and wanted to WIN, and also seemed to have this desire for her employees to be a lot more cutthroat against each other, so she really tried to push this competition to us.

    The thing is, I worked with the airport bookstores, and our competitions included the newsstands who, with their bounty of candy, soda, gum, etc, were by nature more likely to have people buying a ton of tiny things that would lengthen their receipts, while we were selling the newest offerings from James Patterson’s ghostwriters to people with limited carrying space. In addition, my coworkers and I were just…not very competitive people. Most of us were people who had English degrees and yet were stuck working airport retail, and we were here for the paycheck and the 30% off discount on books.

    Still, the competition was on, so what did we do? Uh…we complimented each other if someone managed to get more than three things on a sales receipt. You know, instead of taking it as a challenge. Our manager was very annoyed at our cooperative nature…but we had a pretty good time. Surprisingly good teambuilding. Which was the opposite of what she wanted.

    I’m still friends with most of my airport coworkers. My old manager…not so much.

  66. Stevesie*

    Our office has an annual March Madness bracket challenge. I’m naturally competitive, but work hard to temper that since it’s not a good look at work. I actually am not a sports fan, however, so the bracket is really just for fun and bragging rights. I also enjoy participating just to see whose feathers get ruffled by a woman with no sports knowledge beating them.
    Cut to the year I actually win the whole thing: I waltz into the office to do some light-hearted gloating, and everyone is silent and looking down. Did someone die? I failed to realize that the final game was between the far off team I picked to win, and the local school who everyone was rooting for. I read the room and stayed silent. Halfway through the day the organizer of the bracket came by to loudly congratulate me, and I was so embarrassed. Eventually people got over it, but that day was so uncomfortable!

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I worked at an office with all guys once, and they basically had come to accept that they would work up brilliantly-informed strategies for their brackets, and that the challenge would often be won by a someone who picked their bracket by which teams had the cutest costumes. I got the sense that perhaps that had irritated them in the past, but that now they were at the point of good-natured grudging acceptance.

      1. Might Be Spam*

        I used to pick by how much I liked the tourist attractions in the team’s city and which of the cities I wanted to vacation in. I won a few weeks and it really irritated people because I had no clue about what I was doing.

        1. HBJ*

          In one office I worked at, it was thing that one coworkers dog would do a pick each week. The method – put each team’s name on a piece of paper, place the paper on the floor, place a treat on each sheet, set the dog a distance away, and whichever team’s treat the dog ate first was the winner. The dog had a better win/loss number than all the “sports people” for a couple months.

    2. What Angelica Said*

      I used to work with all ex-sports journalists who took March Madness very seriously. I… did not. One year, I let my rabbit make the picks (left ear twitch = top of bracket, right ear twitch = bottom of bracket). Well, there were some major upsets that year and my rabbit ended up in first place for a few days. My co-workers left some rabbit recipes on my desk in revenge (thankfully without pictures!). It actually was a wonderful office to work in, and I miss those cranks.

      1. Seawren*

        I did something similar in a hockey pool (in Canada, so it was A Big Deal). It was fairly complicated with lots of rules and, knowing nothing about any of the players, I went with the names I thought were funniest or coolest (anybody called Jacques was an automatic pick). I was in first place for about 3 weeks running, and came in 3rd overall. Fortunately my otherwise very competitive co-workers were gracious about it.

        1. HBJ*

          Haha. That reminds me. Fantasy gymnastics is a thing, and I remember seeing that someone put together a team made up entirely of all the gymnasts named Mykayla, McKayla, Mikayla, etc. There are a lot of college-aged named some variation on that name!

    3. Chikklet*

      I came in second in my pool one year using the scientific method of which team’s mascot would take the other in a fight. (Note I had to do a lot of googling since there are some weird a** mascots out there).
      I of course lost to the person who chose completely at random .

  67. bubba*

    I had a boss (this was a branch Fortune 500 insurance company) who would take us out on team building activities specifically to compete. He would spend the day leading up to any event talking about how excited he was to get everyone to compete with each other. I was young and dumb enough to not want to participate in any team building activities, and I also had no desire to compete with my coworkers for any reason.

    For one of these activities we went to a bar and he insisted that we all play darts. I refused and sat in the corner and got drunk. Finally he had badgered me enough “to compete” and with my drunken beginners luck I staggered over and nailed a bullseye and the rest of my darts were in the first ring (it was my first and last time playing darts).

    Boss lost it. He started screaming “YOU’RE A RINGER! YOU KNEW YOU WOULD WIN! THAT’S WHY YOU PRETENDED NOT TO WANT TO COME!” He was literally jumping up and down with rage. I just went back to my beer in the corner.

    My stay in the company did not last long after that. I (young and dumb) would go on to tell him about himself, and he (old and dumb) set out to try and get me fired. I recently came across my scathing exit interview and think that maybe it did have something to do with why he was demoted on the day I started my new job. I hope so.

  68. Firecat*

    A high level boss considered his competitiveness a point of pride and would frequently pit his direct reports against each other in stupid competitions.

    He’d have them all work on the same project independently to see who got it done first, create models to predict revenue, and other things that, if done collaboratively would have been a benefit for the company but was a complete waste to have everyone doing their version of.

    He also had his favorites, which were also white men of the same religion and hair color as him. If one of his favorites lost the competition was “forgotten” and the promised prizes not rewarded.

    Shocking everyone here I am sure – this asshat was promoted to CFO and gave his buddies promotions to directors. Shocking to only these guys – turnover is atrocious and even with Covid they are having trouble filling open positions. Last I heard they use a staffing agency for all their accountants.

  69. LQ*

    We had a very goofy little internal joke “competition” to try to get a little engagement on our new internal website. It was a slow season, and it was like learn how to do a thing and get a point stuff. Some folks engaged, some teams went all in, some didn’t at all, whatever fine. The team that had the people on it (including me) who built the site obviously couldn’t win because we were scoring and all of that, but we wanted the non-me and one other person to get on and learn the site too so we all participated for the first 2 weeks and then we (as a part of the normal updates) did a cheesy fake scandal and disqualified our team from winning (we wouldn’t have anyway, we had a couple of nonparticipators).

    Someone from the winning team was really REALLY mad that we were disqualified, that we were “allowed to compete”, that we didn’t win, …I was never really sure but wow was she mad. Mad enough to escalate this to a commissioner. (The prize was printed off and cut out “medals” that we literally printed on yellow paper and said “100% fake gold”.)

    That person is still here and is still mad about the strangest “injustices” in the workplace. (Current favorite. This person is mad that people who work here and could get overtime but choose not to work overtime, don’t get paid for the overtime they don’t work…Everyone who wants OT gets it (not managers because their time is free) and everyone can. They just have to work. This person is mad that people who don’t work don’t get paid for work they don’t do.

  70. Firecat*

    Not work but…

    I took my 8 yo nephew, my best friend, and her new husband, Dave, to hunt for sharks teeth at the beech. My nephew had been talking about this for days – everyone knew he was beyond ecstatic to find a tooth.

    Well it turns out over the years my secret spot wasn’t so secret. It was crowded and not a tooth was to be found with hours of combing. Until Dave found a rather nice one. He showed it off, and made a big deal out of how HE won and HE was the first. It was awkward because none of us were competing. After another hour my nephew had gone one by one to all of us asking for help finding a tooth. Everyone but Dave obliged, but alas no luck.

    After half a day with only one tooth I asked Dave what he planned to do with the tooth. He said “Oh I don’t really care about the tooth it’s just about winning you know’ and chucked the tooth into the ocean. Literally threw it away before I could ask of he would mind if nephew, the small child who had wanted nothing more then a tooth for days, could have it.

    My nephew had a melt down as the tooth flew off and to this day I don’t think Dave gets it at all.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      OMG. A kid. Dave do better.

      I unwittingly stepped into the other side of a similar story. Two aunts were out walking with the second aunt’s child. Child discovered a few small bills on the ground. Child “had to” give those to their aunt. The mother of child did nothing to stop the process.

      Years later I am out with now Adult child and her own little one. I had no idea of the previous story. I spotted a few bills on the ground. I called out, “Hey. Little One, what’s this over here? Do you see this?” I thought Adult Child would cry as I just watched and “let” her Little One pick up the small bills and put them in her own pocket.

      I remember being really little. A few dollars was like a million dollars to me back then. Kids remember stuff like this forever.

  71. Boring username*

    I’m a fluffy middle aged lady librarian and I have a reputation for being a lovely, compassionate, unflappable and endlessly helpful person. I genuinely do not care about winning, being competitive or over achieving, just about sharing and kindness and being a good person and helping others to succeed. That said I confess that I have absolutely lost it at work a couple of years in a row when the easter bunny visited the office and hid lots of chocolate eggs. I frisked every square inch of the office to gather those eggs and trash talked Finance and my colleagues voted me person most likely to shank someone for a chocolate bunny. Having reflected on my behaviour I no longer participate in this as it brings out the worst in me.

  72. HC in HR*

    My favorite is a White Elephant Gift Exchange. One of the gifts was a Nerf gun with a bunch of projectiles. This was a great gift, as there were 2 departments at the company that had a stockpile of Nerf things & there were often small ‘wars’ between then. Usually as a way of releasing stress or celebrating an important breakthrough. The whole company knew of the Nerf Wars & most had participated in the activities at 1 time or another.

    Someone in 1 of those departments was the 1st to open the gift. They were thrilled with the gift. Then the CFO stole it. Later someone else in 1 of those departments stole it from the CFO. Then when he had the chance, the CFO stole it back. The CFO was an extremely well paid person who could have afforded Nerf by the dozens … yet he seemed to be deriving a lot of glee from depriving the other 2 fairly low ranking employees of having the gift to share with their co-workers.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Dang, that’s not cool, CFO!

      (I first read this wrong and thought there was a prank war of sorts going on, with employees hiding and “stealing” the Nerf gun from one another over the course of weeks and months, which sounds like it could have been fun).

  73. Krabby*

    I worked as HR for a startup that had a yearly softball game against another local startup. The owner’s of both companies had gone to university together and were pretty friendly. It was generally pretty fun and low stakes: the company that lost had to foot the bill for post-game drinks for everyone, but that was it.

    However, the CTO of our company was insanely competitive and would stack our team every year (to the point of bribing some of our more athletic employees to participate with his own money). We had one employee who reported to the CTO and was an insanely good pitcher and acted as a bit of a ringer. This guy, we’ll call him Paul, was also a bit of a hot head. Two weeks before one of these games, Paul gets fed up with someone on another team, aggressively shouts them out in front of everyone in the entire company and rage quits while we’re in the middle of trying to fire him.

    Well, game day rolls around and who is waiting on the field for us, but Paul. The owner and I immediately go over to tell him he has to leave (also to question what the actual fuck he thought he was doing there) and he tells us that the CTO had called him right after he quit and told him he still needed to come and play.

    After we finally got Paul to leave, the owner and I had to have a long talk with the CTO about appropriate workplace relationships. I left the company pretty soon after, but I think the CTO was banned from participating after that.

    1. irene adler*

      Fired or not, you gotta make the annual softball game? Cuz that’s most important here. Hilarious!

  74. ginger ale for all*

    I am trying to come up with a story that will beat all the others and become legendary in it’s own right for this topic. Anyone else or just me?

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Nope just you!

      (Hehehe, I’ll lure them into a false sense of security and sweep the win!)

    2. Ginger ale for all*

      I remembered a story bit it is only tangentially related to work. I used to bowl at the local alley with some co-workers against random teams once a week. We were all female libraians of a certain age and we bowled against this team of 20 something bros. Three out of the four were great guys and we had fun bowling against them. They should have won that night but didn’t, we won all three games. The terrific three just laughed it off and congratulated us but the fourth one was so upset to lose to females who were librarians to boot. He threw a temper tantrum and started kicking the trash cans. He was such a pill whenever he lost to any team that had women on it that I just quit that league and joined a women’s league instead when that season ended.

  75. Marigold*

    This is not my story, but my former boss and favorite mentor’s, from a few years before I joined the field. FormerBoss was having a hell of a year – setting industry records, widely being hailed as a young hotshot and rising star, that kind of thing. At a conference, the organizers thought it would be fun for the senior people to compete at the fun kid-level for the amusement for everyone else. If we were engineers, the competition would be to build a lego bridge, or maybe to dissect a frog or something if we were lab techs. In the versions of this I’ve been to, the vibe has very much been “counselors kickball game on the last day of camp” and it’s always fun to see who’s still got it on the very basic technical industry skills and who has fully ascended to management-land.

    FormerBoss starts to wipe the floor with everyone at this friendly competition, and people are mostly good-natured and unbelieving (“you really are having an amazing year!”) when Industry Elder Statesman, a generally terrifying personality with lots of influence and respect and also his own incredible track record in our industry starts to LOSE HIS MIND and brings up all sorts of industry regulations that FormerBoss is breaking. And people think maybe he’s joking but has lost the plot a little, but no, IndustryElderStatesman insists that FormerBoss clearly can’t possibly be winning because of obscure x, y, and z rules. Rules that do exist! Rules we all live by! That are also absurd to apply at this low level! He suggests the judges get out the regulations book and consult it!

    I don’t remember FormerBoss saying exactly where it went from there – I think just an awkward wind-down from the organizers. If you ask FormerBoss about his “magic year” he’s generally very modest and says it was more stressful than gratifying or exciting. But he loves this story, especially telling it to newcomers to the field who are a little over-awed by ElderStatesman, and claims that the best part of that whole year was beating him at this silly game and then watching him have a temper tantrum about it.

  76. Carol*

    Have a coworker who is a skilled baker who organizes events that require baking and food prep, and gets really persnickety if people don’t want to participate, or if they didn’t read the whole email and bring in pie-cutters, etc. I once brought in a complicated (but not especially showstopping) dish for one of these events and she got really irritated with me and claimed (to others) I was being competitive with her? So weird. I guess her ideal outcome is only she brings an impressive dish and everyone else brings in something subpar?

    Same coworker is very fussy about the types of work she will and won’t do, but gets irritated if you accept the work she won’t do and then do it without complaint.

  77. halfmanhalfshark*

    Back when dot coms were bubbling, I moved to a large city in the southeastern US for a tech job. I have always been sports indifferent (except for NBA games, which I enjoy watching but don’t follow closely, and weird Olympic sports) and extremely disinterested in football and extremely extremely disinterested in college football. I should have gotten a clue when one of the founders of the company, who was maybe five levels of hierarchy above me, took a special trip to my cubicle to ask me how my college alma mater was faring this football season. Notably, I went to a small state school that was absolutely in no way shape or form known as a football school. I know we had a football team because I went to one game in four years but by no means did I follow their progress. I said I really didn’t follow college sports at all, and wasn’t sure, and he proceeded to name the school’s mascot and tell me how they were doing. I realized I was in a whole new world.

    I told you that to tell you this: a few months later, this same founder and another senior member of my team got into a screaming fight about college football, specifically about whether Florida State or University of Florida had a better team that year. Neither person went to either team. They just had really strong opinions about these two teams to the point that the person who wasn’t in charge of the entire company was willing to scream at the biggest boss of all, consequences be darned. I was raised by hardcore fans of Philadelphia teams, and I had never seen anything like it.

  78. Mimi me*

    I worked in a call center when I was newly married and trying to start a family. My cube mate was a mother with two young sons. She heard me talking with a friend about trying to get pregnant and decided she too was going to get pregnant. I struggled with getting pregnant. She did not. She was pregnant and bragging about how her body just wanted to be a mother, blah blah blah. Interestingly she wanted a girl and ended up pregnant with a boy. I did get pregnant about halfway though her pregnancy and found out I was having a girl a few weeks before she had her son. She gave her two weeks the day I discovered I was having a girl. She felt I was having a daughter “at” her.

    1. Krabby*

      I’m sorry to hear you had to deal with such a terrible coworker while going through that. As someone currently struggling with fertility, that’s just so gross on so many levels. Like, how petty can a person possibly be?!

      1. Mimi me*

        It was gross. I have never seen anyone smile so vindictively (outside of the movies) in all my life when she announced her pregnancy. She knew that it would upset me. She was watching me for my reaction. I refused to give it to her. I cried at home – mostly angry tears about how a person could be so mean about something meant to be so beautiful.
        I’m sorry that you’re struggling with fertility right now.

  79. The Rural Juror*

    My former coworker was a bragger. Bragged about anything he could think of about himself. We’re in the construction industry and use subcontractors, so a lot of people with different connections across trades. If you mentioned someone he would be like, “Oh yeah! Bob the Builder?! I know Bob! He loves me! He was so impressed when I blah blah blah.” He wouldn’t even let you finish your sentence and let him know why you might mention Bob. For all he knew, you were about to tell him Bob stole tools from our job site.

    On our second project working together, we were having some trouble with permitting a building with the city because of some outdated plumbing issues in that area of town. Basically, we were going to have to pay to upgrade the water line, but upsizing it benefits the neighbors as well as our new building, so the city has to go through a process to determine a pro-rated amount to charge our project. It took me about a month to work through it with my contact with the city and get all the stars aligned. Then I brought it up with our client in the next meeting and let them know I needed to pay the invoice as soon as possible to keep us from being delayed. They had brought the project checkbook, so they wrote me a check for over $15k on the spot.

    My coworker took the check from my portfolio after the meeting. I guess he thought he would take it down to the city and make the payment himself. I don’t know what glory he thought he was going to gain from that, but he most likely he would have taken it to the wrong place and seriously messed up all my efforts to keep our project from being delayed. He’s lucky I caught him, or else he would have been fired!

    I had to keep my eye on him from then on out because I started noticing him trying to one-up me, but in ways that weren’t very well thought out (and were detrimental to our projects). He eventually resigned when he realized he was about to get canned. It was very satisfying to learn he had quit.

  80. Rainey*

    At my current job, when new comers join they have to participate in a talent show at the annual holiday party at the end of the year. And this is not the goofy kind; there’s a lot of expectation about showing up with a good talent. There was only one other new hire my year. For context, our office is two teams: coffee pot developers and coffee pot sellers. He was a developer and I was a seller, so our teams started trash talking each other basically the moment I was hired, a few weeks after him. I didn’t participate because I don’t see talent as a competition, and I think it’s kind of cruel to make people perform when they’re clearly uncomfortable. And my colleague was really uncomfortable.

    I was in favor of us teaming up, but that idea was rejected by both teams. So at the week before the show, I quietly asked our office manager to schedule him first and me last. I’m a classical musician and play an instrument at a pretty high level. Everyone knew this and expectations were especially high for me. In my world, it’s the done thing to have the best performer go last and I figured my colleague would either show up and be good at something and I could deal with it, or he wouldn’t be good but at least he wouldn’t have to follow me.

    And the latter happened. My colleague never stopped panicking, never got his act together and ended up doing not so great at the show. I performed a warm up piece and everyone was blown away. And this man moped the entire evening. Maybe it was because I’m just an admin who went to a state school while he was on a much higher level career track and had an Ivy league education (and graduated first in his class – something he brought up within the first 2 minutes of our first conversation). But the funniest part of the night was after the show, after dinner, he was outside sulking and I went up to him to offer some words of support and he said, so dejectedly, like he was Eeyore, “You played like an angel,” and walked away. It was the nicest compliment I got that night.

    He never forgave me for “beating” him at the talent show.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Aww…I kindof feel bad for you coworker, but also that seems pretty sweet? I’m conflicted.

      But, mostly, kudos for you on trying to push back on this (ridiculous) tradition and proposing teaming up. That seems like it would have been much more satisfying for everyone important (i.e. you and your coworker).

    2. bunniferous*

      It’s ok. It is actually good for someone who is good at so much to fail occasionally especially when it’s regarding something relatively unimportant. Character building!

    3. Tessie Mae*

      A required talent show for newcomers? That would be my worst nightmare. I have no talent to perform in a talent show. I would be hard-pressed to come up with something, anything.

      Maybe I could play musical glasses with water????

  81. irene adler*

    Back in the day, the folks in the lab would work the daily crossword puzzle as a way to make the down time a little more entertaining. I’d make copies from the daily newspaper and distribute to all the lab folks. By the end of the day, folks would complete most of it. If someone was stuck on a clue we’d ask and a co-worker would answer. All in good fun.

    One gal was really good at them. She could complete them in just a few minutes. That started to be a thing. People would ask, as they walked by her in the lab, how many minutes it had taken her to finish the puzzle. And she’d answer- 3 minutes, 5 minutes. Whatever. Sometimes these folks would tease the rest of us for being slow.
    So, one day I thought I’d play a trick on her. I copied that day’s crossword clues onto yesterday’s puzzle grid. Then copied the correct puzzle for everyone else.

    So as folks walked by, they made the usual inquiry. “Nope, not done yet,” she’d say.


    “This one’s got some difficult clues.“

    So folks would lean over the puzzle and try to render assistance. Only they were no help at all.

    Meanwhile, we all managed to solve our puzzles before she did. A first!

    At the end of the day I clued her in. She thought that was hilarious! She suspected something was amiss as the clues didn’t quite line up with the numbers on the puzzle grid.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      YESSS, I’m so glad to see a story about someone being a good sport! I know the purpose of this post is about coworkers being sour, but I like this story better.

  82. LMM*

    I worked for a national newspaper and once at a department party saw a brand-new, extremely competitive assistant get into an argument about Russia with a columnist who had lived in Russia during the event in question and covered it. The assistant was at first politely, and then firmly, schooled.

    The same very competitive assistant and I ran together on a company track team and once after a race came up to me and asked me if I was injured, for surely I must have been to have gone so slowly. I was not injured.

  83. Jigglypuff*

    This is from school, not work. In high school French class we were playing Around the World, where a student stood next to a second (seated) student and both tried to answer the same question. Whoever answers first gets to stand next to the next person, and so on, and if you make it back to your original seat, you win. I don’t even remember if there was an actual prize involved or if this was just a game to review for a test.

    In any case I stood next to Trevor’s desk, and when the teacher asked the question, Trevor jumped out of his seat and clamped his hands over my mouth to prevent me from answering. This made me fall over, Trevor fell over, his desk fell over, and it was all very dramatic. I obviously wasn’t a fan of Trevor’s actions, but I wasn’t as bothered as my teacher was.

    Looking back, I can see why she was concerned, as Trevor (a male student) basically assaulted me (a female student). I know he got in trouble, but I remember just being annoyed that we couldn’t keep playing the game.

  84. LurkNoMore*

    Team building events during the yearly sales meeting. Take 75 competitive sales people and have them all compete against each other – never a good idea. Broken elbow and torn ACL during a soccer game. Three people having to be taken to the emergency room during an Olympiad type competition. A heart attack during tug-of-war! And the go-kart race of ’03 still lives in infamy – the workers there commented they hadn’t seen anyone be able to flip a go-kart like that ever.
    Oh, the prizes? I still have my koozie from winning beach Olympics in ’08!

    1. ..Kat..*

      Well, I suck at sports, but I am pretty sure I would win the day of the heart attack. Because I am excellent at CPR.

  85. Librarian Who Plays to Win*

    When it comes to games, specifically, I’m really competitive. Which is fine when I’m playing board games/trivia with my friends. But following a staff team building exercise one annual staff day, where we did a trivia scavenger hunt, it was decided by the rest of the management team (of which I am a member) that it’s best I don’t compete anymore. It’s all in good spirits, and now I’m on the team building planning committee every year, which is it’s own kind of fun.

    Note: there was no bad behavior, I just kept my group moving at a much more competitive pace than the rest of the group.

    1. haven't come up with a new name*

      Trivia is also the thing that unlocks my hyper-competitive side. I was on a Quizbowl team in high school, and any kind of trivia game brings me straight back to that very tense mindset. It’s fine among friends on occasion, or when I’m watching game shows at home (which my husband finds very amusing,) but that’s not the person I want to be at work!

  86. ian*

    On a different tack about people being too competitive – we have some internal metrics in my department published on an internal dashboard that we keep as a quick & dirty way of seeing how things are going, but that we explicitly do not use for performance reviews, raises, etc and I tell all my employees not to focus on. Despite that, I frequently find them complaining or worrying about being lower on the charts than other employees, or worrying about a poor score over the last period. It’s a bit odd to me because we’ve done a lot to make it clear that these are not metrics that will be used for or against anyone, but somehow just looking like a scoreboard is enough to make some people treat it as such.

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      Yeah, never break it out like that if it’s meant to be a team progress thing anyway! It’s too easy for both employees and managers to start treating it as an individual metric if it’s presented that way. My team uses charts like this, but we have velocity over time (Jira metrics) calculated for the team or by project, *never* individually because of the very phenomenon you described. Plus as much as management intends to not use those numbers for evaluations, it’s hard for them to not be influenced by rankings that are up all the time- plus you’re asking your employees for a lot of trust in *all* of management by having those numbers available, not just their direct managers. I really don’t see a positive side to this system that couldn’t be handled better some other way. Don’t measure this stuff if it’s not important, and especially if it’s not something you want people to start treating as important!

  87. just a thought*

    I was a government contractor at a government agency. One year, the social committee decided to have a decorating contest for Halloween. The rules said “cubes, office areas, common spaces, and conference rooms” were allowed, and the prizes were $5 gift cards for the top 5 people. My friend and I got the okay from the head of our department to decorate our department’s conference room with other people as a team bonding activity. Our department heads gave us some money for decorations, people brought stuff from home, it was great! We went all out and it was a lot of fun. Everyone LOVED the conference room and my team won the prize.

    Then the fall-out for the Christmas (well Winter holiday) decorations.

    Apparently, people that had decorated their cubes thought it was unfair that we won with a conference room. So the social committee made a team category and a single participant category. People had also complained about our team being too big and re-wrote the team rules. For winter, my team also got SUPER competitive. Other teams formed to decorate competing conference rooms apparently not for fun but so we wouldn’t win again. My team even started talking about sabotaging another team. Someone from our team bought in baked goods and set up his laptop in the conference room to make people vote for us for a treat.

    I kept saying over and over “The prize is a $5 gift card”. I just kept getting told “it’s not about the prize, it’s about the win” and “why would you enter a contest you don’t want to win?”. I almost got kicked off my own team but they decided against it since I bought the decorations with our director money and did most of the decorating.

    We ended up winning the $5 gift cards and there were a few decorated conference rooms, so I guess it turned out well in the end.

  88. The Other Victoria*

    I went to grad school, so I’m used to ridiculously competitive people. But there is one who takes the cake.

    She was in my cohort. I know I’m going to abuse teapot and llama metaphors, but our PhD program was designed such that there were a really wide range of research interests in a way that people didn’t always have *any* knowledge of someone else’s content areas, such that it was as if I were doing a PhD in teapot painting and she was doing one in llama grooming (compare this to a PhD program in say, literature where even if you study American postmodernism, you probably know some things about Shakespeare). So despite our interests being so different that we didn’t have to be competitive, she decided to be very competitive. She was not at first and we started working on a project in a class that related to my research interests because there was a lot of talk around our campus about teapot design and our program encouraged us to work collaboratively. I was probably doing like 70 percent of the work, which I was happy to, as it would lead to my dissertation. We spent about a semester designing the project.

    We spent the second semester collecting data on the project with a plan to regroup over the summer. She came back over the summer aggressively competitive, but only toward me. Every conversation we had turned to talking about how far ahead of me in the program she was, how she was going to graduate first, how she was SO BUSY because she was asked to do important things by the faculty, how I had MUCH MORE free time than she did because I wasn’t as important, etc. It came more or less out of nowhere. She drops the news that she doesn’t have any time to work on the analysis of the project or writing the paper, but she expects to be first author. The first stages of the project had been 70 percent my work, 30 percent hers, and we’d had discussions about how I was leading the project because it aligned with my research interests and not hers (it was a subject she personally cared about, which is why she wanted to get involved). Without analysis or writing, it would shift the total work division to 90-10 or 95-5. And she expected to be first author.

    I asked my advisor for options. If I tried to cut her out of the project, it could hurt my professional reputation. If I tried to submit the paper with myself as lead author, she could refuse to sign off on it, which would delay publication and it would impact my professional reputation. Letting her be first author was not feasible, so we decided to reach out to her advisor and see if the two advisors couldn’t mediate the conflict, but she refused. So, the data just never got analyzed and the paper was never published.

    As a postscript, She wound up in an admin role after finishing her PhD that did not actually require any sort of advanced degree.

    1. bunniferous*

      Were you at least able to use your research on a different project????? That is mind boggling. (but your last line was certainly interesting….)

      1. The Other Victoria*

        I did not use any of the data on anything that could be published, but I was able to review it (it was a qualitative project so I read through all the data but didn’t go through formally coding it) to develop my thinking toward a dissertation project.

        Can I ask why you find the last line interesting? (Genuinely curious, I found it telling as well).

        1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

          I’m curious about the post script line, if that is what you are both referencing as last.
          She seemed so driven, so “only the best will do” that anything less than a tenure track, named position would be failure. She does not seem like a puppet master type, running all the people from behind the scenes, much less support person (admin, whether admin assistant or admin in student services, like helping students enroll).
          Where did she go off track?

        2. bunniferous*

          It was a polite way to say I found it rather hilarious that after all that…..the actual PhD did not score her a PhD level job. (My son has a PhD by the way and I get just how much work goes into getting one, plus understand a bit about how authorship on papers works….so there is a bit of schadenfreude involved here.)

    2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      I don’t have any experience in academia so maybe you can explain something.

      How is it that she could still be considered an author on the paper after deciding that she didn’t have time to do her share of the work? Isn’t that something you would take to your supervisor or someone to mediate? Was she going to be working on another paper and get the credit for that as well?

      The mind boggles!

      1. The Other Victoria*

        In some fields (social science, sciences), not every author writes the paper. Authorship order (the specifics of order varies from field to field, with some fields being first is most important and others last is) is determined by who did the most. So someone might be a coauthor if they just run analyses and tell you how to interpret. Or maybe they design the survey instrument. Authorship means a substantial contribution to the work, and that isn’t always writing.

        (To clarify something: On the project for class, we just had to work together to design the study. We decided to actually execute the study because it aligned with my interests and she cared about the project, too)

        If she’d done 30 percent of the work at all stages of the project, it would rise to the level of a substantial contribution. Because she’d done 30 percent of designing the project and collecting data and expected me to do 100 percent of the analysis and writing, it’s more of a fringe case as to whether what was essentially a 5-10 percent contribution rose to the level of authorship or if it’s the sort of thing that you would just mention in the acknowledgments thanking for their help.

        We did talk to supervisors and wound up at an impasse, which is why the paper never saw the light of day. This would have likely been more easily resolved if there were any sort of faculty who were involved in the project instead of just being students wanting to do a study on our own.

  89. whiskysquirrel*

    My former company was big on promoting physical activity, so after there was success with a company intramural basketball team, they decided to form a soccer team. Obviously very casual, joe schmoes after work type deal. About three of my male coworkers apparently decided it was a professional league. Full tackles, cleats to shins, shoving other players around. In one particularly bad game, a late-50s engineer clotheslined the opposing goalie as he ran forward to grab the ball, turned it into a headlock, then pulled the “what, just joking around!”. I spent so much time shrieking at them to get their act together that afterwards my friend overheard the opposing team laughing about ‘that woman who hates her coworkers’.

    We went 0-8, and the team captain was mind-boggled that I & the other two women refused to do it again. They needed at least 2 women because it was a co-ed league, so that was the end of that!

    1. Krabby*

      Oh my gosh, I dealt with these exact shenanigans in an intramural work league!

      We had the same 2 women minimum and one game a female colleague who had never played before very graciously joined us despite never having played soccer before so that we could field a team. She instinctively caught the ball in her hands when it was coming for her face at one point and the other team got a penalty kick. The other team scored and a guy on our team tore a strip off her. We both quit, and that was also the end of that, haha!

  90. Fricketyfrack*

    It’s me, I’m that person, though this thread is making me feel like waaay less of an asshole because I mostly just seethed in private.

    A previous job had an annual summer bbq event for employees, and part of it was a bake off. I’ve always been the baker in my family, and I think I’m pretty good at it. So I went all out. I made blueberry hand pies with honey goat cheese in a lemon rosemary crust (not my recipe, but adapted), and they were beautiful. My family got to sample the less attractive ones and agreed that they were a winner.

    So the next day comes, the head of our department (as in an entire department of state government, appointed by the governor, super nice guy but definitely not someone I was going to argue with) judges the contest and picks what looked and tasted like a Pyrex of flour, oats, and corn syrup mashed into sticky bars. I forgot that I come from a family that prefers less sweet deserts, while a lot of people are in it for the sugar, and those bars provided it. I was piiiissed.

    I left the bbq early, took the couple of leftover pies back to the office, and quietly thought unkind thoughts about the coworker who made the winning dessert even though I actually liked her a lot. And then I vowed never to participate in another bake off, and I didn’t. It’s been like, 8 years, 2 subsequent jobs, and I’m still mad about those corn syrup abominations winning.

    1. Stevesie*

      I relate completely! I made a time consuming (but delicious!) pie for the first bake off I was a part of at my current job, only for some sickeningly sweet, no-bake, coconut bar cookie monstrosity to win. I guess being the newbie up against a beloved and close to retirement co-worker meant I was doomed before I started. I still participate, but only because I like baking. I expect food I detest to win, and as long as I don’t come home with leftovers, I’m good.

      1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        I have to say, my office has competitions like this. They are fun because the entries are anonymous.

  91. Dr Rat*

    Late to the party, so surprised no one else has a competition story like this one. I’ve never seen such a toxic work environment as when I worked for Indentured Servant Corporation. It was…like an exaggerated TV show about the worst place you could work. We were paid slave wages and expected to ‘gift up’ to the CEO, who bragged about his exotic car collection. When you applied for a job internally, other people in the department voted for who they liked best and the selection was made that way instead of by a manager selecting the most qualified person. The VP hired someone for a management position because she was a friend of his wife, even though she had no management experience, had never worked in the field, and had been fired from her last job as a kindergarten teacher because she yelled at the kids and made them cry. (She quit before she was fired for throwing out documentation the FDA required us to keep on file. She thought the binders took up too much room.) The CEO would bring his half-his-age trophy wife with implants with him to the office so everyone could see he was a Real Man. The HR manager was the CEO’s kid but of course it wasn’t nepotism, no sirree. Crazy stuff.

    We had a “friendly competition” as part of a doomed team building exercise. There was no team to be built; people were just working there until they could get the hell out. You were supposed to work in teams and identify objects with your eyes closed. The same VP announced at the beginning of the exercise that he was going to cheat. And did. So his ‘team’ won because he refused to put on the blindfold and blatantly cheated in front of everyone.

    The person ‘leading’ the team building exercise was an outside consultant. He just sat there stunned like a deer in the headlights. The CEO wasn’t there; the VP was the most senior guy there and the consultant had no authority over him. He had no idea how to handle the situation.

    And in a storybook ending that will surprise no one, the company no longer exists. The CEO bragged that “he didn’t believe in layoffs” and would “never lay anyone off as long as he was the owner.” Then sold the company to someone else so THEY could do all the layoffs. The company that bought us out didn’t realize what a poor decision they made and went under not long after that.

  92. Catabodua*

    Volleyball game at a company picnic. A guy jumped up and SMASHED it into the face of a coworker, breaking her nose. Then was shocked, shocked! that people were angry with him and telling him he was being a jerk by playing that way.

  93. Finland*

    I was weirdly competitive during a training once. The host of the training was passing out $5 Starbucks cards for each answer we gave correctly. I started answering a series of questions correctly and asked the host to give me another card each time. At the end of the training, the host approached me and asked me to never do that again because she was completely out of Starbucks cards by the time the training was done. I walked away feeling really bad. I offered to reimburse her, but she refused.

  94. Office Grunt*

    I take a hard pass on 99% of office social/team-building activities, but if it’s trivia night? Game face comes out, and my co-workers know it (and encourage it).

    Two decades of involvement in competitive quizbowl doesn’t go away overnight, especially when it has other ties to the workplace: I’ve worked alongside people I played against (10-15 years after the fact), and I knew one boss as a quizbowl parent before he became my boss!

  95. Beatrice*

    I worked at a job once where we had a competition to greet customers by name. Our assistant manager participated for some reason, and was strangely competitive about it. She’d take people off the floor and make them do grunt work in the back office, where they wouldn’t interact with customers, if they were beating her.

    We tracked points for the competition with candy. You were supposed to keep it and use it to track your progress. I ate them almost as fast as I earned them which annoyed her. I didn’t care about winning – I knew she wouldn’t let me win anyway, so there was no point.

  96. Mr Jingles*

    I once had a boss who loved to show off and of course, win so she’d constantly nagged us to do ‘team-building-activities’ like paintball or laser tag etc. What she didn’t realize: the company was really toxic. While she was at home every weekend and every day left at least 5pm we, her 5 teamleads, struggled to cover 6 to midnight workdays and fully cover the entire time monday to sunday. She would fuzz and wriggle if one of us dared to ask for a weekend and constantly made us work 6 day weeks just to have at least one teamlead there, if any possible two all the time but made space for her preferred activities just so she could compete. And hell was she a bad winner. If competing against tired out employees who just worked 60 hours (despite the law only allowing 50max) in alternating shifts up to 9 days in a row winning is easy of course when you’re the only one earning almost double money while never working shifts so no one enjoyed those ‘friendly competitions’.
    Luckily we where in Germany so she couldn’t make it mandatory after hours and our employer didn’t allow her to do it during work hours so after one or two shots we’d just not show up anymore.
    Made her mad. She also constantly nagged me especially because I only once gave lasertag a try and never went to play paintball due to health restrictions. She just couldn’t accept that juvenile artritis and activities like paintball don’t work together. I threw a party the day I quit. And no, she wasn’t invited, I partied with my team during a dead late night shift. Even recruited some of them to my new employer later.

  97. gaslit to heck and back*

    I started working for a firm remotely about a year ago. I answered directly to the CEO. However, the “Operations Manager” treated me like an intern. He wouldn’t answer my questions or emails, lied to candidates and put me as the face to absorb the blows (I wasn’t even in an HR role and shouldn’t have been involved at all), refused to give me a company e-mail address, and would roundly mock and belittle me in front of others but superficially pleasant to me when we were alone. I do think my being younger and a blonde female-identified person played a role in his behavior, because he doesn’t treat the other employees I see him interact with this way (The other woman on the staff is ignored; we have discussed it together and she believes it is because she is overweight and he doesn’t get any jollies from picking on her. He treats male employees with respect.)

    All of this nonsense was because his work and organization were so extraordinarily poor that he took the quality of my work as a personal attack. He would actually do things like tell me meetings were canceled so I wouldn’t see his work quality, or that one of his underlings made a mistake he made. At one point he even refused to communicate a work order, then cut me off from communicating with anyone. I never once complained about him or his work to anyone, only mentioned to my direct supervisor that his behavior and defensiveness made it difficult to meet our deadlines. It was, I kid you not, a year-long temper tantrum from a man in his fifties because…he felt threatened?

    I quit on Wednesday :)

  98. WS*

    My brother had been in a car accident and broken his left wrist. The work Christmas party was outdoors and his team was playing frisbee against another team. He’s right-handed, so even though his arm was in a sling, his team pushed and cajoled him into joining so they weren’t one person down. It got rougher and rougher (and some people were drunk) so my brother stopped playing and backed off – only to have one of the opposing team cannon into him thinking he had the frisbee and knock him down to loud cheers…breaking his other wrist. My brother is 6’3″ and a solid guy, so this was with some force!

    He needed surgery on the second broken wrist, but the frisbee players were at least sorry enough to visit him in hospital (this was pre-COVID)…and present him with the frisbee.

  99. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

    I had one of those “but faaaamily!” bosses who always expected employees to drop everything and attend his ego-centric social events after hours.

    One year his brain farted out the idea of creating a company team to play in the local industry football competition. I guess they had to meet a gender quota or something to play in the mixed competition because all the women suddenly got hounded to join. I declined, on the basis of not being at all interested in anything to do with team sports.

    “But it’s just for fun! It’s social! You can come and wear a team shirt and cheer us on! It’ll be great for team bonding! Don’t you want to be a team player?”
    I have hands of butter and I can’t run that fas–
    “Oh! No we don’t want you then. We’re only there to WIN!”

    Ok cool. You go back to sweaty chest-beating in your spare time, and I stick to science documentaries with my cat and my wine. Glad we cleared that up.

  100. Teacher Crazy*

    I was working in a Korean elementary school. I had been there for two years and was very popular with my students (hard not to be when you’re essentially the “fun” teacher by default!). The English department head changed midway through my second year, so the kindhearted soul who used to have the job was gone. They replaced her with a woman whose bizarre behavior was legendary throughout the city.

    Of course, I could do little right by her standards, but she was an excellent (if strict) teacher. Her students were some of my favorites and I was always happy to work with them. Then they just didn’t show up for a month… “They’re studying for a test,” “they’re cleaning their classroom as punishment,” etc… I mean, every excuse in the book! She later got drunk at a teacher party and told me she’d been keeping the students away from me because she was jealous that they liked me more than her.

    The next day, she stole my printer. I didn’t have a printer in my classroom for the rest of year!

    Korean co-teaching… it was a special breed of strange.

  101. Kaitydidd*

    I think this is equally me and my coworker being too competitive.

    I worked at a big box store in my little hometown years ago. There was a whiteboard posted just outside the breakroom which ranked the cashiers by speed. I don’t honestly remember if there was any incentive other than bragging rights because I’m pretty competitive, so that’s all I needed to be entertained, anyway. The registers have a function to pause the transaction during delays so that the items per minute count was accurate. It was a performance metric for us, after all. Some cashiers used that function as a competitive strategy. I mostly didn’t bother unless I was waiting for a manager or something, but I knew one of my colleagues (and former classmate) would pause and unpause for delays of even a second. He pause/unpaused constantly. It worked, to be fair. He was the only one faster than me. One day near the end of my time there he bragged about his speed as a way to ask me out. I was heading back to college soon, and I was unimpressed anyway because I knew about his strategy. It didn’t seem like good sportsmanship to me. I didn’t go out with him.

  102. Red*

    We have some competitive teachers in our building.
    One teacher went all out in a tricycle race against students in a pep rally. She crashed close to the finish line, tore her ACL, was hospitalized for a blood clot, and lost weeks at work. No tricycles have been raced at pep rallies since then.
    Also, there was the chili cook off that turned out awkwardly. Hildigard sent out an email inviting all teachers to cook chili, bring it in a crockpot to the staff lounge, we sample at lunch, and the chili is ranked by the staff via secret ballot. We all enjoyed a great sampling of tasty chili in several varieties, and everyone contributed toppings and drinks. Seems harmless, right? Lucinda was crowned the winner, but the second-place finisher, Marguiala cried foul. Marguiala launched a PR campaign to expose the false victory of Lucinda, gossiping with everyone who would listen. You see, Lucinda didn’t cook anything. She emptied some cans together with some spices, stirred, and heated; so her chili was “plagiarized,” according to Marguiala. For YEARS after the chili cook off we had to hear the story of the stolen victory and the plagiarized chili if anyone proposed a cook off of any sort. No cook offs have taken place in a decade.

    1. I DK*

      Too funny … So what, would one have to grow their own tomatoes, peppers, onions and beans to have an original recipe? Or wouldn’t that just be plagiarizing from the seeds?

  103. Like Sharknado, but with turtles*

    I am not comfortable playing ‘team building’ games because of my competitive nature. It took me a few years to recognize that the games are not meant to be won, they are meant to be played. Although I am neither a sore loser or winner, my need to complete the task/win the game comes from being on teams all through school – so it is ironic that this drive is not an advantage in a job setting.

  104. One door closes, a better one opens*

    Most competitive job I ever had was the job that didn’t believe in competing. Call center environment and those of us good at it were “boosting the whole team’s” stats so a little friendly competition was encouraged. Though group stat boards were discouraged for a time, were anyomonus for a little while it got brutal. Eventually the competitiveness/non competitiveness bled over to the managers stats and it was “game on”. Winner and losers were chosen and you were supposed to know your place. Any complaining about being over looked for recognition was labeled “negative” and could label an employee as troublemaker. It eventually blew up into a write up and termination for performance issues. Very passive aggressive. Thankfully I’ve found the best opportunity ever due to a door closing and couldn’t be happier!!!

  105. Lemon Meringue*

    I did student placement at a Community Health Service centre where they organised social activities for the elderly.
    Activities would involve such things like Bingo games and you would win a small prize, like a small chocolate bar.
    In the midst of the fun, staff quickly realised they ran out of chocolate prizes, so the team leader suggested they play just for fun regardless of chocolate or not.

    The problem was that this particular group of elderly people took bingo so seriously and were so competitive that when they found out there was no prize, they tossed the bingo sheet aside and refused to play!

  106. Texas Teacher*

    A coworker injured her leg in the 5th grade V staff kickball game and had to have surgery. The district tried to say it wasn’t workman’s comp but this happened on campus, during school hours, and was required. So then they banned all staff V student games across the district. I know teachers from other campuses thought this was over a sprained ankle. We got lots of hate.

  107. Ric*

    Something like the “Dizzy Izzy” can be fun and even the most hypercompetitive folks will find it hard to be, well, hypercompetitive when they can’t go in a straight line whilst being laughed at. Amazingly, despite seeing people fall down all the time, I have never seen anyone get hurt.

  108. Katrianah (UK)*

    My personal favourite will always be the Team Leader in my old callcentre job who tried to discipline me for *doing my job*, and she wasn’t my TL.

    I was auditing jobs sent to back office and caught one of her staff putting through a sale that our department shouldn’t and couldn’t touch, she was determined to win the top sales award on that day (which was just “oh hey Team X got top sales”, there was no other reward, and according to my TL it wasn’t even that important come reviews compared to teams AHT etc) while doing my own job, and I shunted it to the correct team, costing her team member the sale.

    She. Was. Furious. Over *one* sale. Tried to call me into the office off the call floor, taking advantage of the fact my own TL didnt work Saturdays while I did, got stopped by her manager who asked her what the heck she thought she was doing disciplining someone else’s staff (the office was only EVER used for discipline or other confidential meetings so it was obvious what she was doing), and got herself dragged in there instead.

    My TL comes back on Monday and pulls me aside like “What in the actual eff happened here and why is that TL gunning for you?”. Told him my side of the story, backed up with logs of my activities, and he literally facepalmed at the stupidity.

    I have a feeling she would have been after me for the rest of my time there, but less than a month later our outsourced services were no longer required by the contracting company who was taking all their callcentre jobs back in house. I was offered a job with them – declined due to increasing health issues and the fact I needed to get OUT of callcentre work – and she was not.

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