The old adage “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” conveniently omits any reference to frenemies– people who seem like an ally one minute and an adversary the next. In the workplace, these relationships can be common. For example, consider the colleague who happily collaborated with you on a high-profile project only to claim full credit as soon as the project wrapped.
Unfortunately, distinguishing a true comrade from someone who has an eye on your job can seem like a job in itself. Here are five tips for protecting yourself from the damage and stress a suspicious office friendship can cause:
1. Look at yourself first
Before you address a colleague’s iffy behavior, look at your own. You could be contributing to a competitive environment with your own actions. Subtle moves and attitudes — assuming you know more than a colleague because you’ve worked for the company longer, for example — can make an enemy out of a work friend.
2. Avoid assumptions
Misunderstandings sour more workplace relationships than fundamental conflicts do. If you’ve heard that a colleague has been talking behind your back, for instance, don’t overreact. If it’s a minor matter, try to let it slide. If it seems more significant, ask the person about it directly. You might find that you were misinformed.
If that doesn’t seem to be the case, consider what might have led to the perceived slight. Ask whether it was a reaction to something you said or did. Regardless of your frenemy’s response, you’ve established that you are aware of her behavior. If problems continue, you’ll know to treat her much more cautiously going forward.
3. Resist retaliating
When you’ve confirmed that a colleague has done something objectionable, like taking credit for one of your ideas, it’s tempting to respond in kind, or at least to bad-mouth the person to other colleagues. This can turn a minor tiff into a major battle. Indulging in gamesmanship at work not only makes you look petty and untrustworthy, but it also takes up time and energy that’s better spent on work.