For some women, competition is uncomfortable. We’ve been raised to be collaborative, helpful and of service to friends and family. Yet other women thrive on competition against all comers.
In moderate doses, both character traits are admirable. But at their extremes, both can be detrimental to business. Adopt a healthy view of competition as you start and grow your business, then continue dealing with it constructively. This is especially true when people begin to compete with you.
I’ve heard many variations on the following story while talking with successful women entrepreneurs. They tell of a trusted female friend or employee who has learned everything she needs to know from her mentor. Without warning, she then goes on to start a competing business right under her mentor’s nose.
In one case, a close friend who’d been part of the family for many years went on to start practically an exact copy of the mentor’s specialty-food business. In another, a trusted girlfriend opened a competing retail store on the same city block. In each case, the mentor—feeling hurt, used, and betrayed—didn’t know how to deal with her emotions.
I had a similar experience. And while my business partner (my husband) and I were both upset about it, I noticed an interesting difference between us: He got angry, driven to win, and got over it, while I ruminated about it for days.
In my husband’s mind, it was all part of business. In my world, it spilled into the personal—how could this person betray me after I had offered my help so freely?
As time goes on, I’ve realized that my reaction to such experiences likely won’t change. However, the way I deal with my emotions has changed. Instead of letting the incident bring me down, I harness those emotions and let them fuel me. My job is to continue to be creative so that my business remains fresh, competitive, and different from others—whether they are run by strangers from the other side of the country or by once-close friends.
Other women entrepreneurs have learned the same lesson. In the case of the idea-stealing family friend, her business was so similar, and her funding so extensive, it forced the original entrepreneur to be innovative. She came with new ideas for her specialty-food company—ideas that helped the business grow and evolve. Years later, she’s still in business—and the copycat is not.
In the case of the retail store, the original storeowner refused to lose her focus and kept doing what she does well. Today that original retail store has grown into an international business with an extensive line of products and a brand that’s a household name.
The fact is, if your ideas are good ones, copycat competition will happen to you, too. The key is staying focused, no matter who the competitor is. If you’re dwelling on the negative (even if you’ve been legitimately wronged), you can’t be creative. It will sap your energy, squash your ideas and change the focus from your business to theirs.
As women, many of us are wired more for collaboration than competition. That’s why it hurts so much when we feel we’ve been betrayed. But we can learn from men, who seem instinctively to understand the issue and deal with it more easily.
As a woman, feel what you feel, but use the emotional energy constructively to re-energize your business. Rather than surrender to despair, beat your competitor at her own game.
This column originally appeared on WomenEntrepreneur.com.