How can I approach my friend about her constant competitiveness?

Dear Alice,

My "best friend" of almost 4 years now has always been competitive, but it's never been something we've discussed. Every time I'm wearing something trendy or saying something new, she will do the same thing. When we used to run in aerobics class, she would constantly try to beat my scores. I confronted her about that, but she never seems to learn — she still copies me and competes with everything from grades to guys. If I address the problems I've had in the past, I will look stupid because usually I would be the type to bring it up, but my life was too hectic at the time. Should I really "waste" time talking to her about her competitiveness? Or, is there a way to hint at it or persuade her to do something original?

Apparently Trendy

Dear Apparently Trendy, 

Friendly rivalry has the potential to inspire, encourage, and challenge friends to do more and to do better. A little competition between friends is common and healthy, as long as it's acknowledged, mutual, and generally energizes the relationship. What you’ve described, however, doesn’t seem to be fostering those positive elements for you. Taking the time to talk through what’s been going on with your pal (rather than hinting or persuading) isn’t likely to be a waste of your time. Clear and honest communication in any relationship is key in helping to maintain boundaries. Doing so will allow you to get a sense of why this might be happening and inform you of how best to move forward with your “bestie.” 

There could be several reasons why your friend is running with this uncomfortable competitive streak. Given that hinting at these issues doesn’t seem to be working, further relying on subtle communication strategies may remain an ineffective method of addressing your concerns. It may be helpful to first do the solo work of thinking through how you’d like the conversation to go and what outcomes or resolutions would be ideal for you. You can prepare by reflecting on what you’ve experienced, how it’s affecting both you and your relationship with her, as well as what you need to feel confident you’ve been heard and there is a course of action moving forward. Preparing what you’d like to share for this conversation isn’t a guarantee you’ll get you what you want, but it will signify a sincere commitment to communication with your friend (and hopefully she will do the same). 

As you continue to think through how to broach the issue with your friend, here are some other approaches to consider: 

  • Use “I” statements. From your perspective, share how those situations or behaviors made you feel. Using "I" statements will convey that you’ve taken responsibility for your feelings, and when expressing your thoughts, try delivering them in a concerned, yet appreciative manner. 
  • Come from a place of caring. As hard as it may seem, try coming from a caring place when expressing your concern and desire to remain friends—if that is your objective. 
  • Give concrete examples. Be honest, but sensitive, when describing what you’ve observed in her behavior. Try to provide some recent examples of situations where she copied you or was competitive with you that were bothersome. 
  • Avoid attacks or accusations. Things like “You always compete with me, no matter what we do.” or “Every time I buy new clothes, you have to get the same exact ones.” might provoke your friend into being defensive. 
  • Highlight her finer points to accentuate the positive. In particular, you could concentrate on aspects that she may be stronger in than you. Perhaps you can also help her identify what makes her special because sometimes it's hard for a person to see their own qualities. 
  • Ask questions. Consider asking her to share her perspective on what you’ve shared—does she agree with you? Does she see the issue differently and how? Try to really listen to what she has to say. 
  • Come with ideas of your own. Describe how you would like your relationship to look in the future and invite her to share her thoughts, too. 

You may both agree to take some time to process what was discussed before continuing the conversation. Eventually, you may decide to work through the problem together to maintain and cultivate your friendship. Alternatively, you may choose to move away from your friendship and connect less frequently. In either scenario, being firm with your boundaries and taking responsibility for your actions in the relationship may help you feel settled about your decisions regardless of the outcome. 

If you're still feeling unsure about how to talk to your friend or what to do, it may be worthwhile to reach out to a trusted friend (perhaps one that’s in a different friend group), family member, or even a mental health professional to talk through your approach and reflect further on your feelings. However you decide to handle this situation, keep in mind that relationships take cooperation, communication, collaboration, commitment, nurturing, and time to mature. More than that, compatible, fulfilling relationships encourage those involved to be their best selves. And, while friendships need work to work, the payoff can be very rewarding. 

Best of luck to you, 

Last updated Mar 08, 2024
Originally published Nov 14, 2003