How to deal with a “one-upper” coworker

How to deal with a “one-upper” coworker

We all know the type. If you did something, chances are they did it better. The dreaded “one-upper” coworker. You went out for a burger at lunch. It was delicious. Well, the “one-upper” had a burger you couldn’t dream of affording — dressed with truffles and 24k gold. It’s on a secret menu only “one-uppers” know about. Your instant feeling is wanting to retreat from any conversation with the “one-upper”— it can be uncomfortable.

Unlike the braggadocio on social media, you can’t block a coworker from offering their unsolicited boasting. But you’re not without some remedy. Here are a few ways to handle and possibly avoid a “one-upper” coworker.

How to identify a “one-upper”

Ways to identify a “one-upper:”

  1. A “one-upper” is a braggart or a show-off

    They want you to know they’re better in every way. You may have that coworker who only asks how you are so they can tell you about themselves.

  2. Look out for questions that invite a follow up question

    For example, “What are you doing this weekend?” Your natural reaction may be to ask, “How about you?” This is the perfect set-up for a “one-upper” to give you, what they believe to be, a better, superior answer, one more praise-worthy because, hey, they’re all about one-upping you. A “one-upper” follows up with a story about themselves that almost always goes above and beyond what anyone else in the conversation was discussing.

  3. “One-upper” sees you as competition

    The “one-upper” coworker may be a new employee or you may be the new employee. Either way, they see you as competition. The “one-upper” may regularly point out how hard they’re working, putting in 10 hour days. It’s frustrating because it can make you feel like you may not be doing a good job at work. When in reality, you’re working harder and actually putting in 10 hour days. Your coworker is the one taking naps in the breakroom, online shopping, and wasting time telling the same story about “this one time” [insert any over the top scenario that likely never happened]. Everyone knows they never really bumped into Lady Gaga at an ATM.

Ways to respond to the “one-upper”

You now find yourself in an unwanted competition. You just want to get your work done. You’re not discussing a project you’re working on just so your coworker can tell you how much more complicated their project is. But that’s exactly what your coworker wants to do.

If the one-upping is work related

  • Try explaining to your coworker how your position or responsibilities differ from theirs and that you operate one way and they may operate another. It does not mean any one project or task is more or less important.
  • If the opportunity arises, try turning the “one-upping” into something productive for both you and your coworker. For example, if your coworker is bragging about how busy they are at work, offer to help with some of their tasks.
  • Congratulate them on being such a great and trusted employee that they have an abundance of work. While they enjoy the praise, part of the “one-upper” wants you to feel down about your lesser accomplishments—almost feel some jealousy. By indulging your coworker’s bragging, you’re showing them that they can’t get you down. Your coworker may now feel like they don’t need to further impress you and will lay off the bragging.

If the one-upping is personal

  • Try to avoid conversations about your personal life to eliminate the opportunity for your coworker to chime in about how much better their life is. A “one-upper” feeds off of the opportunity to shut down what you just said with their much better story.
  • Don’t give your coworker the chance to show off. With this particular coworker, keep the workplace just work.

When to get management involved

The “one-upper” eventually may be too much to deal with.

Your coworker uses their one-upping to your detriment

Sure, your coworker made a snide comment about you only working the required 8 hours when they worked 10, but they laughed afterwards. It was just a joke, right? That may not be the case. Your coworker may be using their one-upping to show your boss that they are doing a better job than you, and in turn you may be assigned less work resulting in your pay taking a hit. That may seem drastic, but this can carry through to promotions, raises, etc.

You do not want to create a problem where there isn’t one, but it may be a good idea to sit down with your boss and discuss what you’re experiencing. You don’t necessarily need to frame the discussion as you versus your coworker. You can give your boss a rundown of your current projects and your scheduled completion of each project. Your boss will appreciate your work and the fact that the job is getting done, regardless of what your “one-upper” coworker is doing.

Excessive personal chatting

If your coworker’s unwelcome bragging is personal in nature, perhaps it’s worth having a conversation with your boss about excessive personal chatting. You’re guilty of doing it too sometimes, but your boss could address the matter company wide so no one person is singled out. Your boss may choose to have a one-on-one with your coworker. Either way, your coworker will hopefully become aware of how much time they’re wasting each day on non-work related conversations.

You could also make some suggestions on how to keep the chatter at bay. For example, a monthly pizza lunch or potluck that gives everyone their lunch break at the same time, that way no one’s work is being sidelined for personal conversations. Your boss is there to run a productive company, and they’ll appreciate your support in making that happen.

It’s best to tackle the problem immediately so you don’t build up any tension between you and your coworker. You can’t change your coworker’s personality, but you can approach the awkward encounters as outlined above to make everyone’s day more productive.