3 signs your work buddy could become a frenemy

By Robert Half on 8 May 2017

It’s like something straight out of the schoolyard – except you’re at work. You may have just started a role at a new company, and not known anyone there. Someone comes along who warmly welcomes you to the business and helps with your onboarding. They seem to want to help you and become a friendly colleague, until one day they betray your trust. They’re now what is known as a frenemy.

Frenemies are people who, either consciously or subconsciously, end up harming you. They may have a malicious intention to sabotage you, for example they might claim your idea as their own in a meeting or presentation, or tell your manager something you told them in confidence. Or they may end up sabotaging you inadvertently, as a result of their single-mindedness – their tenaciousness could overlook a failure to pass on important information about a task at work for example, affecting your ability to deliver. But whether they’re ill-natured or not, frenemies can be harmful to your professional life and could embroil you in unnecessary office politics.

Why would a co-worker behave this way?

Many of us have experienced one of these unfortunate events, but those who haven’t may be wondering why anyone would go to so much trouble to make their co-worker’s life miserable. A frenemy may be motivated by fear, because they see you as a threat to their own ascent up the corporate ladder. Or they may be selfish and too focused on their own agenda to realise when they’re negatively impacting others around them.

These wily ways make frenemies the types of people who can really damage your professional life, or at least make the work environment uncomfortable. But you can be ahead of the curve by knowing how to spot a fake friend at work when you see one.

How to identify if you have a frenemy

1. They are inconsistent in their communication

Does your work buddy seem to change tack all the time? Are they all ears and eager to provide support on concerns you have one day, and then give you nothing but radio silence the next? Do they forget to give you important information, or give you bad advice sometimes? Do they book lunches and meetings with you, only to bail without notice?

This behaviour isn’t always just the sign of a forgetful co-worker; it can also be an indication that you have a frenemy. Some people use these tactics to conjure a sense of unease and slowly undermine others’ confidence. Others simply neglect to notice when they’re having a negative impact on those around them. So next time a frenemy tries to book a meeting with you, make it a short one, or send them reminders in the lead-up to it to confirm it’s still going ahead.

2. They take greater credit for work they didn’t do

Some people tend to trumpet their own triumphs at any given opportunity. And while celebrating wins in the workplace is a healthy thing, it’s the people who take credit for their own work as well as others’ that should ring alarm bells.

If you worked closely with your colleague on a project and find that they have been talking up their part to your manager while downplaying or even ignoring your contributions, this is a sign that a work buddy could be turning into a frenemy. Counter their efforts to cut you out by ensuring that you share positive feedback and results from your efforts with your manager as well. As the saying goes, credit should be given when credit is due.

3. They seem to be trying to sabotage your efforts

Say you got a promotion, and your work buddy who used to work alongside you, is now on a slightly lower rung from you on the corporate ladder. But you still need to work together in order to achieve the company’s goals, right? That may not be necessarily how your frenemy sees it.

You might see an early warning sign that your colleague has turned sour if they stop answering your professional messages. It’s one thing for your co-worker to not reply to your personal email if they’re upset at you about something, but another if they’re ignoring your work-related emails, because that could impact your work and put your job in jeopardy. If you have asked your co-worker about this in person, but to no avail, you might need to raise your concerns with your manager. Do it professionally and discreetly, and put the emphasis on the effect these communication issues have on the task at hand.

It’s your move

If you have reason to believe your work buddy is creating conflict against you, it’s up to you to do something about it. If confrontational situations become regular occurrences, then it’s time to have a conversation with your frenemy face-to-face in a calm, polite manner to voice your concerns.

Depending on how that conversation goes, you could even take your concerns to your HR or your manager. Either way, you have made them aware of their negative behaviour and attempted to right their wrongs, all while taking the professional high ground.

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