Work Colleagues Talking Near Water Fountain

Spotting a frenemy

They may be hiding in plain sight

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
3 minute read
Work Colleagues Talking Near Water Fountain

It is easy to spot the difference between genuine friends in the workplace who enlighten your day at work and adversaries who make some days difficult to bear.

But things are never that black and white because you might also have colleagues who are a façade of friendliness: your frenemies.

As the name suggests, a frenemy sits between a friend and an enemy.

In the world of workplace friendships, a frenemy can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

When it comes to friends and enemies, we usually know what to expect from each across most workplace situations.

It is different with frenemies. Their lack of consistency in how they behave makes it difficult to figure out whether they sit in the friendship camp or the enemy one.

For that reason, we need to look beyond the façade of friendship that most frenemies freely display in the workplace.

Frenemies appear to be great colleagues, but beneath that veneer they harbour negative thoughts about so-called friends.

A frenemy will talk about you behind your back, be forever asking for favours and pass off cruel criticism as constructive feedback.

They can switch their charm on and off at the drop of a hat.

Frenemies never appear to be happy for you when things are going well.

When things are not going well, they might even come across as high-spirited. In the worst case, they might even appear to enjoy your misery.

When talking with a frenemy you will quickly discover the chat invariably revolves around them. It rarely is a discussion focused on your issues, challenges and achievements.

They also never bother to respond to your calls, emails or texts unless they need something from you.

Beyond all of those red flags, deep down your gut will be telling you that you should not – under any circumstances – trust a person who you suspect is masquerading as a friend.

The best course of action

Once you have identified a colleague as being a frenemy, the best approach involves gradually distancing yourself from them but still remaining civil with your interactions.

There is little doubt that having good friends in the workplace improves job satisfaction, promotes a sense of belonging and enhances mental health and wellbeing.

It is also true that the opposite applies. Workplace enemies can take the shine off having a group of good workmates.

In the case of adversaries, while their behaviour towards you can be stressful the very fact you know what to expect from a workplace protagonist means you are more likely to be able to prepare mentally for an unpleasant strike.

It is also likely their actions will be noticed by others, which means making a complaint about an enemy is relatively straightforward.

A frenemy, on the other hand, can cause you even more stress than the toughest of workplace foes.

Identifying those who sit somewhere between friendship and rivalry might not make their behaviour more acceptable or tolerable, but will at least help to take the sting out of that uncertainty.