Take two kids in competition for their parents’ love and attention. Add to that
the envy that one child feels for the accomplishments of the other; the resentment
that each child feels for the privileges of the other; the personal frustrations that
they don’t dare let out on anyone else but a brother or sister, and it’s not hard to
understand why in families across the land, the sibling relationship contains
enough emotional dynamite to set off rounds of daily explosions.
Adele Faber (1987) Siblings Without Rivalry
A friend of mine recently shared his ongoing challenge with the emergence of sibling rivalry between his two young children. Given he is a daytime daddy, he witnesses much more of his children’s behaviour than other fathers and mothers in double-income families. Listening to his stories, I was immediately thrown back to my own childhood and the sibling rivalry with my sister and brother. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, competition was rampant in every arena of life and, consequently, a survival behaviour learned early. The parents-of-the-day, having served or suffered through WWII, learned their lesson well — to the victor go the spoils. No fault, no blame. They did the best with what knowledge and skills they had.
Experience has shown how deeply the seeds of war are planted by economic
rivalry and social injustice. Harry S. Truman
In many circles today, competition is getting a bad ‘rep’. Just as my friend can see the dissatisfaction and potential destruction wrought between siblings that grow up always competing, so has the business community begun to recognize that internal competition between business units or self-managed teams wastes or hoards resources. Furthermore, we are witnessing business-to-business collaboration replacing old competitive relationships for similar reasons. In an economy where competitive advantage requires speed, variety and change, companies often need external as well as internal resources working together to innovate and optimize.
In the title of this blog, I asked the question, “Is competition (win-lose) unresolved sibling rivalry?” In my own experience, the answer is ‘yes’. I took my childhood competitive behaviour into every other aspect of later life — athletics, relationships, play, work and university. My college training in conflict resolution gave me my first experience with the impact of collaboration (win-win), and I have never turned back. Some years ago, I wrote the following poem in an attempt to capture my shifting experience.
Two little girls walk hand in hand,
One says, “Let’s go,” the other, “I don’t think so.”
“Oh” their parents say,
“One like night, the other like day.”
Two young girls walk side by side,
One asks forgiveness, the other asks permission.”
“Oh” the aunts compare,
“One so dark, the other so fair.”
Two teenage girls walk side by side,
One resists, while the other pleases.
“Oh” the teachers quibble,
“One such a rebel, the other an angel.”
Two young women walk arm in arm,
One says to the other, “Together we can.”
“Oh” the world whispers,
“They must be sisters.”
Bringing collaboration for over 25 years into an arena where competition was the model of choice, unconsciously and consciously, has been rewarding but not easy. To some degree, we are all products of our past experiences (sibling rivalry), and a challenging behaviour for any of us to relinquish is ‘being right’ (winning). Here is the double-edged sword — there has been so much societal and economic reward for winning (consider Microsoft during its monopoly building days).
Today several generations of children spoon-fed on sibling rivalry (win-lose) are now trying out collaboration via social networking. Many may not have the appropriate skills, but in order to play, they are going to have to learn them. Life has conspired to set us on this new path, and it will mean confronting our old rivalry demons in order to participate and contribute.
Just last weekend, my sister and I conquered another one from our past.
How about you? What rivalry demons from your past are still triggered today by one of your siblings? Do you understand why? Ask yourself, “Is my relationship with my sibling more important than being right?”