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Michael Phelps left the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio having amassed a career total of 23 gold medals, two silver medals and three bronze medals. His most anticipated race this year was the 200-meter butterfly, which pitted Phelps against long-time rival, Chad Le Clos of South Africa.

In the 2012 Olympics in London, Le Clos beat Phelps by five one-hundredths of a second to win the 200-meter butterfly. Over the past four years, Le Clos and Phelps have taken a different approach to competition – and in those approaches you’ll find valuable lessons for your business.

Focus On What Matters

Le Clos has repeatedly been taunting Phelps. He was quoted in 2015 as saying, “Michael Phelps has been talking about how slow the butterfly events have been recently. I just did a time he hasn’t done in four years. So he can keep quiet now.”

Unfortunately for Le Clos, Phelps beat Le Clos’ time just a few hours after that quote. Le Clos continued to let his mouth do the talking, citing that however fast Phelps would race, Le Clos would be faster. When Phelps was asked to respond, he said, [tweet_quote]”I’m going to let what I do in the pool do my talking.”[/tweet_quote]

While Le Clos was speaking, Phelps was training. While Le Clos was focused on Phelps, Phelps was focused on results. The stage was set at the 2016 Olympic final for the 200-meter butterfly.

Secretly, most swimming fans were imagining a scenario where Phelps would pull Le Clos’ shorts down to his ankles just before the race. What actually happened may have been even better.

Theatrics erupted in the ready room at the 200-meter butterfly finals. As Phelps sat stoically with a solid game face wearing headphones, Le Clos was shadow-boxing in front of him.

When they reached the pool deck and their starting blocks, Phelps peered with laser focus into his lane for the race. Meanwhile, Le Clos was starting at Phelps trying to grab his attention and presumably get into his head.

By the end of the race, it was all over but the crying. Phelps won yet another gold medal and regained the title for the 200-meter butterfly, going into retirement as the most decorated Olympian ever. Le Clos did not win a medal in the race.

Le Clos was focused on Phelps even toward the end of the race. Phelps, on the other hand, stared at the finish line.

Business Lessons

Nearly every business faces competition. In some cases, your competitors seek to steal your attention, engage in trash talk about you, and even undermine your business value. You have two choices: you can focus on your competitors, or you can focus on delivering results for your clients.

It is tempting to engage in verbal judo with the competition. However, you can never achieve long-term success by speaking negatively about them. When your customer tells you about the horrible experience he or she had with your competitor, all you can say is, “That’s unfortunate.”

I recently interviewed Elizabeth Marshall, a brilliant strategist who helps professionals to be seen as experts in their field. Her episode is embedded below.

You know her clients by name. “You do not become an expert just through self-promotion,” she emphasizes. “Experts serve their audience by delivering valuable content that they are uniquely qualified to offer.”

Avoid Traps

You can easily get caught reacting to the competition. Instead, when confronted with competition, ask yourself, “What do we do differently that will help our clients achieve better results?”

If your client suggests that the competition said something negative about you or your company, do not take the bait to respond in kind. Instead, you can reply, “We focus on delivering measurable results for our clients. I supposed if we could not do that reliably, we might be forced to talk negatively about other vendors. Luckily, we get to focus on results.”

When the competition is talking trash, you can “let what you do in the pool” – specifically your results – speak for you and your business.

It’s Your Turn

When have you succeeded by shifting to results instead of the competition? Share your story in the comments below or on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Elizabeth Marshall | Becoming An Expert In Your Field