Bringing sportsmanship to business

To many people, business is a cut-throat, zero-sum, winner-take-all battle to the death. Competitors deserve no respect. Instead, they should be humiliated and obliterated from the competition. The fewer competitors you have, the fewer choices your customers have and the more likely they are to choose you. You’re like wild animals fighting over prey. One of you will eat and one of you will starve to death. Your job in business is to make sure you go home with food in your belly. And there’s only one way to do that: destroy the competition.

Business is analogous to sports in many ways. But one thing I find particularly fitting is the concept of sportsmanship. In most sporting activities, there can be only one winner. Teams have been known to go into several overtimes, extra innings, and sudden deaths to ensure that this is the case. Nevertheless, you do see people in sports showing courtesy to players on the other teams.

You see runners sacrificing a better time to help another runner finish the race. You see softball players on the opposing team helping an injured player around the bases. It’s called character. It’s called civility. Why don’t we see more of this in business?

How to Show Sportsmanship in Business

There are many ways for business people to show decency and courtesy to competition. Here are just a few:

  • Cut the attack ads. I don’t know why businesses continue to run ads slamming competition. As far as I know, everyone responds negatively to the brand doing the slandering. It makes them think of dirty, under-handed politicians. Slinging mud is not a strategy for success. It makes your competitors look bad, but it makes you look terrible. Just. Don’t. Do. It.
  • Let them go peacefully. If you know you are going to be driving a competitor out of business, don’t drag it out. Meet with them. Discuss your strategy going forward and give them the opportunity to sell and get a decent return. It will give them the chance to forego months (or years) of being undercut on price, ruining customer relationships, and laying off (or threatening to lay off) employees. Just be upfront with them.
  • Look for partnership opportunities. Many times, your competitors can be your best partners. If there’s a way you can divide up your customer bases into separate niches, you both can win. Instead of getting competition from your competitor, you’ll be getting referrals. Meet with your competitor and see if there’s a way to split up the business you’re going after.

I just don’t get it when people are nasty to each other. Whether it’s in sports, business, or war. We’re all human beings sharing the same planet. We’re all in this together. We have a long history of fighting over resources. Everyone seems to be happier, though, when we find a way to coexist.

The business world needs to adopt a more collaborative mentality. It’s better for the businesses, their customers, and the world at large. Who have you shown sportsmanship to lately?

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