We all have one… even if we don’t know it yet.
The Classic Frenemy
We’ve all dealt with this person. The one who comes over to our desk and chats with us… about everyone else. The person that passes off your idea as theirs in the meeting and makes it seem like no big deal. The person that shares all of the office drama — drama you’re pretty sure doesn’t really exist. You can’t decide whether or not you like them… or trust them.
This person is your frenemy. And they can be dangerous because their power lies in gossip instead of fact and having leverage instead of talent.
How to Spot a Frenemy
The problem is, we all know these people. We can all spot them — after we’ve been burned. So how can we separate the friend from the frenemy, before it’s too late?
Are they inconsistent?
When you make up stories it gets really hard to keep track of what you’ve already said. A sure sign that someone is going to quickly become a frenemy is if they are inconsistent with their “facts,” since they’ve made them up. Are they repeating things that happened, but with different players or outcomes? Does something just sound wrong? Ifyou get that gut feeling that you shouldn’t trust them, listen to it — you’re probably right.
Do they talk badly about others?
Gossip is harmful, and unfortunately most workplaces have some amount of it. A frenemy is fine saying untrue or hurtful things about other people. Usually there is a part of us that kind of agrees, or thinks that they’re telling the truth. And there’s no easy way to know they’re not. But when you encounter someone like that, if they’re saying bad things about someone else, what do you think they’re saying about you when your back’s turned?
Is it never their fault?
Not being able to take responsibility for mistakes, or constantly blaming their own shortcomings on someone else is a bad sign. If they’re blaming another co-worker for always making them look bad, you can be sure they will happily throw you under the bus if it becomes necessary.
Are they always the hero of the story?
It’s amazing how “right” these people happen to be. Every great idea that’s happened on the team is somehow associated with them. In addition to never making mistakes, they are also geniuses, and everyone is better for listening to their awesome ideas.
Shutting It Down
If you’re working with people like this on your team, you’re obviously going to have to interact with them. How do you do that without it backfiring?
Keep control of the conversation
You can be kind without being dismissive. Make sure that your conversations stay on simple topics. If you’re discussing a project with the person, keep this simple, too, and only ask specific questions so that you get the information you need, and then go back to what you were doing before.
Reserve important conversations for groups or email
If you already know that you can’t trust this person, don’t have important conversations with them without someone else in the room. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting, but having a group discuss important issues can be better than doing it one on one if you know that the person can’t be trusted. If that’s not possible, follow up your private conversation with an email. That will take out any possible confusion of what happened, and will lay the groundwork for the accountability of both parties.
Many times these frenemies are overly negative. Something is always wrong, someone else is always stupid, there is always drama going on. Keep conversations about work and others as positive as possible. There’s no need to lie or make things up. Just focus on the positive things that are happening to offset all the negative talk. You’ll both be better for it.
Don’t give in to the gossip
It’s surprisingly easy to start gossiping. All it takes is a seemingly innocent reply like, “Oh I didn’t know she did that.” Congratulations, you’re now participating in the frenemy game. Gossip is unkind to begin with, but being labeled as someone who participates in it can have a negative impact on your career. So just don’t respond to it. If the gossip starts, either shut it down by changing the subject or leave the conversation altogether.
Think About Who You Associate With
When we’re one on one with people, or in an environment that’s not ideal, it’s easy to give in to these conversations. They feed into our own unhappiness, and it’s easy to think that this person is a real friend. But frenemies are usually quite selfish and only have their own interests at heart. Don’t let yourself be mislead into thinking that it won’t come back and bite you in the ass. You become the people you associate with, so it’s best to choose wisely.
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