Earlier this week, I pointed out that it's both normal and beneficial to be competitive at work. Being competitive makes you more productive and (ultimately) helps your company become more competitive as well.

As a competitive person myself, I've been observing other hyper-competitors for a long time. A lot of them crash and burn because they make too many enemies. A handful, though, consistently compete and win. Here's what they do differently:

1. They choose their own game.

In any business situation or environment there are multiple ways to win. Smart competitors pick the game they want to play, rather than let the company or their co-workers pick it for them.

For example, in many companies, managers have less fun than their employees. In some groups (like sales), managers often make less money, too. So why compete for a promotion?

Just as important, choosing a game that fits your personal goals bypasses negative energy from co-workers who have chosen to play the standard game.

For example, when I worked for a Fortune 500 company, I had no interest in becoming a manager. I was more interested in expanding my contacts to build my career. As a result, I got little or no flak from the climb-the-ladder strivers.

When that company imploded (I saw it coming and was long gone) the strivers were left hanging while I had used my contacts to neatly step into a better career. In other words, I was competing but I was also choosing my game.

This is not say that you can't compete for the same gold ring as everyone else. If you do, though, you should play the game to win. So keep reading, my friends....

2. They learn the unwritten rules.

Conventional wisdom is that success in business always comes as the result of hard work and teamwork. Yeah, right.

In every business situation there are the "official rules" and there are the "unwritten rules." Unless you learn the unwritten rules you will lose every competition.

For example, the official No. 1 rule inside many companies is "the customer is always right." However, in every company the unwritten No. 1 rule is "make your boss successful."

If you follow the official rule and do something that's right for the customer but makes your boss look bad, you'll get slapped down faster than a drunk mosquito. Loser! So keep the customer happy...but only as long as your boss is happy, too.

The power and beauty of knowing the unwritten rules is that by following them you can compete without appearing to be competitive. You spend your time and energy going for what really works, while everyone else continues to flail away at the BS.

Then, when you win, it seems to everyone else more like an accident rather than something you planned all along. No hard feelings, and on to the next round!

3. They forge useful alliances.

Since there are multiple ways to win inside every organization, you're surrounded by people who are playing a different game or competing to achieve a different goal.

If you're willing to help others achieve their goals, they're usually willing to help you achieve yours. This is called "politics" and is how things get done in the real world.

The trick to forging effective alliances is finding partners whose interests and goals are complementary, rather than competitive, with what you want to accomplish and where you want to win.

For example, suppose your goal is to get your cool engineering project funded, which means that somebody else's engineering project will get short shrift.

Rather than looking for allies in the engineering group (your competitors), find somebody in marketing and agree to support his pet project (which comes from a different budget) if he'll support yours.

Ideally, you'll win your budget but your competitors (the other engineers) will blame the marketing guy rather than you.

4. They don't reveal their strategy.

When most people play the game Monopoly, they lay out their property and money where everyone can see what they've got. Smart players, however, keep their property and money hidden.

Here's why. If your competitors can't remember how much money you have or exactly what you own, they're less likely to thwart you during auctions, which is the only area in Monopoly where skill trumps luck.

The same thing is true when competing in business. The more you can keep your competitors in the dark about your strategy and tactics, the easier they are to beat. Ideally, you don't even want them to know you're playing the game!

For example, if you're angling for a promotion, the last thing you want to do is let the other people who might be up for that promotion know that you're angling for it.

Quite the contrary, your public position should be "I want whatever is best for the company," even as you build alliances, get commitments, and lay groundwork. They won't know what hit them!

5. They don't share their emotions.

When you win at work, the dumbest thing you can possibly do is anything that resembles a "victory dance." Rubbing it in will just raise resentments and make it harder for you to win next time.

Similarly, if you lose at work, the dumbest thing you can possibly do is to gnash your teeth or whine about the result. Nobody likes a sore loser.

Even more important, when somebody else loses, resist the temptation to express your schadenfreude, even if you're secretly delighted. Same thing when somebody else wins. If you're envious, keep it to yourself.

Keeping your competitive emotions at bay serves your best interests. It robs competitors of the joy of seeing you miserable and soothes the wounded egos of those whom you've crushed.

More than that, keeping a strategic silence about your own emotions keeps everyone guessing about where and when you'll be competing next, thereby increasing the likelihood that you'll win the future.

Now, perhaps these five points seem a bit Machiavellian. Well, yeah. But people who know how to compete internally (and still keep everyone happy) are the people most likely to make good competitive decisions for a company, too.

Published on: Aug 25, 2016
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.