Competition or Complementarity: Which One to Choose in Unavoidable Interpersonal Relations?

At the outset, I make a bold statement that being complementary is the only way to sustain interpersonal relations. The term: interpersonal relations that I use on this blog refers to personal relations that are unavoidable. We are caught between two competing forces: competition and complementarity as we wade through interpersonal relations, and these two forces respectively have the potential to aggravate and mitigate conflicts which are possibly the most rampant yet convulsive factor in human relations. If a man says there are no conflicts in his relations with others, then he is putting truth behind him.

Conflicts are inevitable in human relations because out there, there is no one who is exactly like someone. There are no two people who are similar in every aspect; for example, even identical twins have different fingerprints and retinas, the two scientifically-proven morphological characteristics that differentiate one human from others. Hence, as people are different, conflicts in interpersonal relations, howsoever close two people are, are inevitable. In this blog, I am making an attempt to look at competition and complementarity from the perspective of their dynamics in interpersonal relations.

In general, competition brings out the best, depending on how the competing forces are allowed to play the game. In other words, competition is like a wind, and it can either inflame or douse the fire in you, with the key lying in managing the fuel. And this is how competition plays out everywhere except in interpersonal relations. Competition in interpersonal relations brings out both the best and the worst, with the latter drowning the merits of the former. So if we attempt to define competition from an interpersonal perspective, then it can be defined as the process that evens out two best possibles, eventually producing a worst. This definition sounds oxymoronic because how two best possibles can produce a worst! It, however, is true that competition in interpersonal relations ultimately produces the worst, not the best, irrespective of whatever best inputs are put into it. Why is it so? The simple answer is ego whose functional definition can be the inherent unwillingness to acknowledge and appreciate goodness when that goodness is a winner against you.

Even magnanimity is not fully capable of overcoming the ego generated out of an interpersonal competition, for, as I explained, such ego is inherent, meaning it can directly or indirectly ruffle the net worth of your merit. It, hence, is illusory to think that a competitive track is the right path to drive the vehicle of interpersonal relation whether it is between spouses or friends or siblings or family members of two generations. Being competitive not only does hinder the progress of personal relations but also has the potential to break or bruise them. Competition has a winner — who takes it all — so does a loser. While in the larger macro world, a winner can afford to unaffectedly ignore the plight of the loser, the micro world of interpersonal relations does not offer such a luxury because whether the winner likes it or not, she/he will get affected in one way or other by the loser’s plight.

Complementarity, the distant and disconnected cousin of competition, plays an entirely different role in interpersonal relations yet produces the same result that competition is intended to produce in the larger macro world, i.e., the best. In complementarity, there is no best as an input but two goods come together to produce a best or a better bettering a good to produce a best. Complementarity is adding value to another without losing anything. Complementarity is adding that extra bit to make something or someone complete or perfect or correct without the feel of an individual loss. In this process, the protagonist who plays the role of complementarity relishes, with or without his/her knowledge, the perfection or correction that the other person achieves. So complementarity is gaining though none loses anything for that gain to happen.

In complementarity, ‘I’ is pushed back by we. On the other hand, there is only I in competition. When man is confronted with the Hobson’s choice of maintaining personal relation with someone, he has to drive that relation through complementarity track because only can then he get relational link to the other person. This is not a compromise because unavoidable interpersonal relations move “on and with” we, not I. In other words, complementing each other, not competing with each other, is the way forward for personal relations to sustain. But one big question arises: what do we have to do to make complementarity as the default mode in unavoidable interpersonal relations? Or to put the question in another way: How do I weed out competition from unavoidable personal relations? To answer these questions, we need to look at what competition gives and what complementarity achieves.

Ultimately, competition is synonymous with efficiency while in complementarity, effectiveness takes precedence over efficiency. In competition, efficiency, a personal attribute, decides to make solo trip to effectiveness while in complementarity, individual-efficiency is offered to offset the shortfall in the efficiency of the other person so that a journey-together to effectiveness is achieved. Competition reduces while complementarity adds when it comes to interpersonal relations.

Efficiency is the ability to achieve a certain target with the least inputs. And these inputs can be space and/or time, both of which have scalable costs. Effectiveness is the ability to achieve a certain target. And in effectiveness, the variables of time and space are not counted meritoriously and what only matters is reaching the target. Coming back to the question of what has to be done to make complementarity as the default mode in interpersonal relations, do not look for efficiency in personal relations, rather make effectiveness as the defining attribute. Your spouse or friend may be less efficient — less competitive — than you. Do add your efficiency to make up the shortfall in the efficiency of your spouse or friend so that the effectiveness of a sustainable relationship is achieved — counting of individual efficiency giving way to effectiveness of interpersonal relations, meaning complementarity, not competition, being made the defining attribute to manage interpersonal relations.

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