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November 10, 2016
Here's the Difference Between Your Work Friend & Frenemy

My daughters have two favorite shows they are binging on right now: Friends and Grey’s Anatomy. Very different premises, but both center on relationships and having your person – or people – who unconditionally have your back. 

The strength that comes from having “a person” is a valuable part of work life, too. To love your job is one thing. To have someone at the office you can laugh with, confide in, and vent to is a gift we all covet. 

So what happens when you think your special work friend is “your person”, and it turns out that they are in fact your "frenemy"? (What’s a frenemy? A person who acts like your friend to your face, only to turn around and stab you right in the back.)  

Most of us have had one or two frenemies in our life. I learned about mine the hard way, as most teenage girls do. However, it wasn’t until I was in my twenties and beginning my career that I realized the cattiness and desire to sabotage at work existed. I thought grown-ups didn’t behave in such a way… until I realized a colleague was throwing me under the bus hard to our shared boss in an attempt to get ahead.  

How do you tell the difference? Read on to decipher the sure tell-tale signs. 

A FRIEND SUPPORTS YOU IN GETTING STRONGER. A FRENEMY EXPOSOSES YOUR WEAKNESSES.

Think about it. A true, trusted work colleague won’t just have lunch with you. They will grab a shovel in helping to support your career development. 

Whether it’s providing a helping hand or just talking through a complex situation with you, a work friend is the one who helps you achieve. A frenemy is the one who will partner with you and get close enough to exploit your weaker areas. 

Uncomfortable speaking up in a meeting? Watch out for the frenemy who takes advantage of this to present your ideas as their own.  

A FRIEND PLAYS FOR THE TEAM. A FRENEMY PLAYS FOR HIM- OR HERSELF.

Part of the benefit of working at a healthy company is building relationships that cross the lines of business and personal. In today’s teams, working on projects together and powering through deadlines is a recipe for friendships to blossom. It’s the co-worker who is always on the fringe of the team that is the one person you need to worry about. 

Teams find success together. Frenemies focus on their own success in spite of the team.  

A FRIEND IS ABOVE BOARD. A FRENEMY WORKS BEHIND THE SCENES.

A friend is transparent and will provide you with sound counsel and a listening ear. Whether they are operating out of insecurity or some other driver, a frenemy will intentionally provide you with bad advice, break your confidences, and sabotage your brand. 

If you learn your “friend” is discounting your knowledge and talents to others, watch your back. 

A FRIEND BOOSTS YOUR CONFIDENCE. A FRENEMY CHIPS AWAY AT IT. 

True work friends will cheer your successes on and help you celebrate a job well done. They will tell you discreetly when you have a piece of lettuce stuck in your teeth after your lunch salad, and say positive things about you to others (even if you aren’t there to hear it). 

A frenemy takes pleasure in the small digs disguised as kind remarks. “You just kicked butt in that presentation!” is a comment we’d all love to hear. “Nice job on your presentation!  You actually sounded like you have a clue,” isn’t.  

There are countless other examples of frenemy behavior in the workplace. And while we can’t choose our co-workers, we can elect how much time we spend engaging with those who don’t make the cut of being a true friend. 

So if a frenemy is throwing shade your way, how can you avoid it? It's simple: Apply good judgment.   Always be civil and professional in the workplace. However, there is no need to extend any additional courtesies. For example, you don’t need to follow and friend each other on social media (why provide additional ammunition?). 

Attending group lunches or drinks after work is fine, but ensure you’re with another real friend who will have your back if things go a little downhill. And of course, stand up for yourself. If a potential frenemy is out for blood, stop them in their tracks. 

Just as we learned in high school, never give someone ammunition to use against you. If they do talk behind your back, ignore them. You’ve likely got a real friend at work who’s got your back. 

 


Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.

Image via Shutterstock