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Frenemy in the Workplace: 5 Warning Signs

FlourishAnyway is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist with applied experience in corporate human resources and consulting.

BFFs: Beware of Fickle Friends On the Job

Don't delude yourself.  Frenemies can be either male or female.  In the workplace, faux friends can harm both your career and your confidence.

Don't delude yourself. Frenemies can be either male or female. In the workplace, faux friends can harm both your career and your confidence.

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

Frenemies are both friends and rivals.  Is this really the kind of relationship you want?

Frenemies are both friends and rivals. Is this really the kind of relationship you want?

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 frenemy does not play well with others.

The frenemy does not play well with others.

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.

Is your work friend fighting against you?

Is your work friend fighting against you?

Frenemies: Worst Friends Ever

But wait. Not all work friends are good at this friendship thing. Some of them rather suck at it.

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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.

If you ruffle your frenemy's feathers, be prepared for backlash.

If you ruffle your frenemy's feathers, be prepared for backlash.

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

Frenemies can sabotage your work or your efforts at self-improvement.  They can intentionally mislead you, break confidences and  badmouth you to others.

Frenemies can sabotage your work or your efforts at self-improvement. They can intentionally mislead you, break confidences and badmouth you to others.

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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

Research shows that about half of our social network is comprised of "ambivalent friends."

Research shows that about half of our social network is comprised of "ambivalent friends."

Covert Operations

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.
  • 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?

A work frenemy can deliver an insult disguised as a compliment.

A work frenemy can deliver an insult disguised as a compliment.

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
  • 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 Inflict

Work frenemies can be catty creatures!  Although they can be fun to work with, they can also damage both your confidence and your image of competence at work.

Work frenemies can be catty creatures! Although they can be fun to work with, they can also damage both your confidence and your image of competence at work.

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