Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Avoiding the Damaging Effects of Envy

A few years ago a couple of behavioral science researchers published some work focused on the damaging effects of envy. An example they used in explaining their learnings involved a west coast salad buffet chain called Fresh Choice. While fairly successful, the management of Fresh Choice took serious notice of a restaurant chain called Zoppa, which had very creative menu items and stores with lively and energetic décor and atmosphere. After studying the organization they went ahead and acquired it.

Surprisingly, once the task of integrating Zoopa into the Fresh Choice organization began, it was clear that the Fresh Choice managers felt threatened by their Zoopa peers, who seemed quite bright and aggressive. After a few months, Fresh Choice managers began viewing them as unfocused and sloppy, and ended up initially resisting and then ignoring the successful practices they had paid good money to acquire.

The researchers pointed out that this story demonstrates two common manifestations of envy; disparagement and distancing. They noted that we tend to dismiss the value of those qualities of the individuals that cause the envy and even treat them with scorn. We make ourselves feel better by belittling their accomplishments, and in fact, even avoiding the individuals if at all possible.

Given that human beings seem to be wired with these basic tendencies to be envious of successful colleagues or peers, these researchers emphasized three techniques that help people replace these inclinations with more productive habits:

1.) Pinpoint What Makes You Envious – The key is to recognize what it is that triggers envy for you. Does the peer that you are envious of have more skills, have a higher salary, get excessive praise from the boss, etc. The researchers suggest that isolating what specifically bothers you can enable you to begin to deal with it.

2.) Don’t Focus on Other People; Focus on Yourself – While it is absolutely normal to compare your progress with that of others, too much of that causes you to put too much effort into diminishing the other person versus achieving success on your own part. Your basically wasting time by excessively fretting over the fact that someone else is doing well.

3.) Affirm Yourself – Individuals needs to recognize their own strengths and successes and take satisfaction from them. This can help you direct your energy to furthering your own accomplishments.

By confronting your envious feelings with increased focus on being productive, you can become more open to others, more receptive to change, and more fulfilled.

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