Frenemy in the Workplace: 5 Warning Signs
BFFs: Beware of Fickle Friends On the Job
Frenemies In the Workplace: Who's Got Your Back?
Beware of that waffling work friend. She's the fickle, fair-weathered colleague who cannot commit to being either your friend or your foe. So she vacillates between both roles.
As your double-dealing teammate draws you in, you reveal confidences to her. (No-o-o! It's a trap!)
Your work frenemy offers just enough kindness to keep you as a "friend." Then she zaps you with betrayals or zings you with put-downs. Sheesh. She was "only kidding!" (Cue her evil laugh as self-doubt rains down upon you. Bahaha!)
If you suspect that your phony friend doesn't have your back, you are right. These villains can wreak havoc on both your confidence and your career.
When it comes to frenemies in the workplace, you don't have to let the bad guys win. Learn the warning signs, plus options for dealing with such sneaky scoundrels.
Frenemies: Push and Shove, They're the Ones You Hate To Love
The Work Frenemy: Does Not Play Well With Others
There's an old train of thought that business and friendship shouldn't mix -- that work is not meant to be personal.
But throw together an odd lot of individuals who otherwise wouldn't choose to associate with one another. Call them a work group, a staff, or a team. Give them projects, deadlines, and meetings for eight or more hours a day. Friendships are bound to form.
The Value of Friends At Work
One study found that 36 percent of adults met at least one of their closest friends at work.1
Research by Gallup found that people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work.2 They also find their work 50% more satisfying.3
In addition, people who reach out in friendship to others on the job are more likely to receive promotions.4 Clearly, having work friends can be beneficial.
Frenemies: Worst Friends Ever
But wait. Not all work friends are good at this friendship thing. Some of them rather suck at it.
Such badly behaving work friends are rivals in disguise -- smart, clever, and manipulative people who love you one minute and backstab you the next. You know the type -- the office frenemy.
Being colleagues, you may be stuck working together. However, you can at least learn to detect a backbiting BFF before she does you too much damage.
Is Your Work Friend A Frenemy?
Questions To Consider
Does she concentrate on your flaws and mistakes ... give you backhanded compliments ... make jokes at your expense ("only kidding")?
If one of you left the company tomorrow, would you still be friends a year from now?
Do you have an unbalanced relationship? Does she make demands on your time and energy, requesting favors but rarely returning them?
If you had a personal emergency, could you rely on her for help -- without having her remind you that you owe her BIG TIME?
Does she break your confidences?
If there were some gossip about you, would your friend defend you ... or join in?
When you receive recognition, a pay raise, or a promotion that she does not, is she genuinely happy for you ... or jealous?
Do you feel like you constantly have to explain yourself to her?
Do you find yourself keeping certain information from her because of trust issues?
When she's on vacation or out of the office, is your life lonelier ... but a lot less hectic?
Take That! Frenemies Love Sabotage
Where have you encountered most of your faux friends and backstabbing buddies?
Frenemy Sign #1: She Doesn't Have Your Best Interests At Heart
The workplace frenemy may genuinely like you, but she has a hard time consistently showing it. Your two-faced teammate may even want to BE you.
When she's not double-dealing her colleagues, the work frenemy can be fun to be around. She offers you the benefits of grapevine gossip, someone to commiserate and celebrate work with, and a lunch buddy.
Yet you suspect that she's holding back. When you receive praise -- especially from someone important, like the boss -- she can barely control her eye rolling.
That's because your frenemy doesn't have your best interests at heart. Her motives are mixed. She loves you yet she hates you, and the conniving wench cannot help but show it. She just hopes you're not paying attention to all of her devious ways.
Oh, Girl! That Frenemy Is Working Hard Behind the Scenes
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Make your work frenemy think twice about her wicked ways by keeping this on your desk. You don't have to tell her who it's for. Just let the sneaky scoundrel wonder. Bahaha! It worked for me!
Out of rivalry, your frenemy may find ways to sabotage your confidence and your image of competence at work. For example, she may:
- give you bad advice
- discourage you from thinking through a situation that requires a cool head
- forget to share important information with you
- shift responsibility for mistakes or omissions to you
- try to shift more workload your way
- break your confidences
- spread gossip about you
- twist your words to make you look bad or
- discount your knowledge, skills and experience to clients, peers, or management. (And when people know she's your BFF, her comments may come across as particularly genuine criticism.)
No matter what you think of her, you gotta give her this: your BFF's pretty slick, isn't she?
Wouldn't It Be Nice If It Were This Simple?
Frenemy Sign #2: She Blows Backhanded Compliments
Poison pals enjoy the damage that well-placed, "stray" comments can inflict. Your work frenemy launches cutting remarks like missiles disguised as a flattering remarks, landmines camouflaged as goodwill.
Do You Have A Poison Pal?
Beneath her smile lurks a sneer, as she blows you backhanded compliments:
"You look great in your new suit! It hides the extra 10 pounds you've gained."
"That client was impressed with you. He thought you actually knew what you're talking about."
"Thanks for staying late again to help me out. You better get home to your kids before they wonder if they still have a mother."
Studies show that frenemy behavior like this can exact negative health effects, including:
- increased blood pressure
- a lowered resistance to stress
- and increased risk of depression.5
Don't give your frenemy the pleasure of inflicting such harm. Recognize the compliment that isn't.
The Claws: Beware Of the Danger A Work Frenemy Can Do
Frenemy Sign #3: She Leaves You Feeling Angry And Used
The work frenemy leaves you feeling used, angry, and misunderstood. She requires you to cater to her needs while neglecting your own.
Work Frenemy's Conflicting Signs
She'll "pencil you in" on her busy calendar only to cancel on you at the last moment when something more pressing comes up (which usually does). And because she doesn't have a firm grasp on personal boundaries, your work frenemy requests countless favors of you -- both personal and professional.
However, she rarely returns the courtesy, nor can she find the time. Reciprocity is not how she rolls.
As a result, you feel like you're constantly having to guard against her exploitation of your time, energy, and resources. That's a work frenemy. Not a friend.
Work Frenemies: Friendship Minus the Foundation Of Trust
Frenemy Sign #4: She Tries To Ruin Your Other Friendships
When other co-workers take an interest in developing new friendships with you, your work frenemy gets jealous and acts out. She feels possessive of you. (After all, you do put up with a lot from her, don't you?)
Don't be surprised if the sneaky scoundrel
- inserts herself in your conversations with your new friend
- highlights your flaws and flubs and
- spreads gossip about you.
With these tactics, she seeks to both scare your new friend off and refocus your full attention back on her -- where it belongs.
Frenemy Denial: Oh, How Could You?!?
Frenemy Sign #5: She Overreacts When Confronted
Something curious happens if you marshal the courage to confront your work frenemy about her behavior. She doesn't understand what you're talking about. Instead of owning her scheming behavior, she completely denies it.
There's anger, surprise, shock, ... even waterworks. How could you accuse her of such a thing?
She may turn the tables on you and refuse to discuss your ridiculous accusation. Or blame you by claiming that you're obviously just reading into the situation ... again. (What's wrong with you anyway?)
At least you tried to call her out on her behavior. You gave it a good try.
Accept that you are not going to fix her. A backstabbing BFF took years to become the way she is, and it's not your duty to teach her how to be a good friend. So let her practice her weird brand of friendship skills on someone else.
You risk both your confidence and work reputation maintaining a close relationship with a work frenemy. If you keep confronting her, you'll continue to get nowhere and come be known as the Worst Thing Ever in the world of work: Not A Team Player.
And then who would win?
Work Frenemy: A Team Of One
Strategies For Surviving the Work Frenemy
Although you cannot choose your co-workers, you may have some say in who you work with on projects and certainly who you chat with during lunches and break time. You can also control how much personal information you divulge to such an untrustworthy colleague as well as your reactions when your backbiting BFF crosses the line.
You are not without options. Short of leaving your job, here are tips for surviving the work frenemy:
Options For Dealing With Frenemies In the Workplace
INSTEAD OF THIS ...
Allowing her to "pencil you in" to her incredibly busy schedule (then canceling)
Master the art of "the fade." Be too busy for your work frenemy. Cite scheduling conflicts. Or, if you must meet with her, set short meetings with advance reminders.
Verbally sharing information about yourself
Master the art of conversing about topics other than yourself, your family, your feelings and opinions. Keep it superficial and surface. Sidestep personal questions with "I don't know," "It's not something I'm comfortable discussing right now," or another non-committal reply. Be courteous but firm.
Facebook sharing personal information
Update your Facebook settings so her status updates do not show in your news feed. Be stingy with your comments or "likes" of her statuses, as they are symbolic "endorsements." Learn how to use the groups setting and privacy filters. Carefully ponder personal information you post on-line.
Becoming visually flustered at backhanded compliments and insults
Immediately but calmly call attention to verbal inaccuracies. Label them as "not appropriate," "inaccurate," or "uncalled for." If there are others present, correct the statement for the record. Then move on.
Sharing gossip with your work frenemy or about them
Excuse yourself when the topic turns to gossip. Or change the subject. If someone will gossip with you, they'll gossip about you.
Allowing her to shift workload to you and others
Follow good project management principles, ensuring that projects and assignments have clearly identifiable tasks (with individuals assigned to specific duties).
Accepting "that's just the way she is"
Learn to recognize warning signs of work frenemies early. Strive to surround yourself by people who value you personally and professionally. Seek people who treat you consistently well both behind your back as well as in front of you.
Choose Your Work Friends Wisely
Choose your friends wisely -- especially at work. If you have to spend a third of your adult life on the job, make sure it's in the company of people who don't wish you harm, either overtly or through hidden agendas.
Work Frenemy: Wants An Audience
1McKee, A., & Walker, T. (2014). Report: State of Friendship. Retrieved from http://getlifeboat.com/goodies/report2013/.
2Riordan, C. (2013, July 3). We All Need Friends at Work. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/07/we-all-need-friends-at-work/.
3Armour, S. (2007, August 2). Friendship and work: A good or bad partnership? Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/workplace/2007-08-01-work-friends_n.htm.
4Lewis, K. R. (2012, April 24). Want a promotion? Make friends at work. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2012/04/24/want-a-promotion-make-friends-at-work/.
5Weir, K. (2011, April 14). Fickle Friends: How to Deal with Frenemies. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fickle-friends/.
Notable Quotes On Betrayal
“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.”
- William Blake, English poet and painter
"We are a puny and fickle folk. Avarice, hesitation, and following are our diseases."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist and lecturer
"If you're gonna be two-faced, at least make one of them pretty."
- Marilyn Monroe, American sex symbol and actress
"If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"
- Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President
"He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore."
- Sigmund Freud, founding father of psychoanalysis
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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