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Friends, Foes and Frenemies: Navigating Negative Workplace Relationships

Part 1: Employee Relations from the Employee Perspective

“The people make the place.” Nowhere is this adage truer than the workplace. Some co-workers become so much more – they are the people you talk to about life matters, have lunch with, and even socialize with outside of work. Others you might simply interact within the office and never give another passing thought. And then there are those coworkers who you wish you never had to interact with again.

Whether petty or serious, workplace adversaries are real. And it’s not just among the lower-level employees – virtually every employee experience problems with work foes and frenemies at some point. Whether you’re dealing with a more garden-variety negative employee or a true workplace bully, these kinds of toxic workplace relationships can be a drain not only on your enthusiasm for your job, but also on your ability to be productive, potentially jeopardizing your position.

Here are some strategies you can employ to help you deal with an office foe or frenemy and prevent things from escalating:

Identifying Truth from Fiction

Start by taking a hard look at what’s going on around you.

workplace frustration

  • Is your coworker really an enemy with a dark agenda behind their actions? Or are they merely critical?
  • Are you witnessing someone giving favors due to a friendship? Or is that person merely an advocate rewarding someone else for hard work?
  • Is this person really against YOU or are they just a bully?

Trying to understand the intent behind someone’s interactions with you will help you know how to proceed in your dealings with them.

Perception vs. Reality

How do others treat your workplace foe? Are they generally scared or angry? Do they seem to get along and you just can’t figure out why? Maybe this perception of antagonism is all in your head. Or is this person upsetting to everyone? If so, maybe following others’ cues for how they deal with him or her will help you figure out your own best approach.

Your Mom Was Right

Most of the time, the best advice is to ignore the person bothering you. Not completely – they are still your co-worker and you need to work with them. However, ignoring their actions and negativity is often the right answer. Staying in your lane and focusing on your work will limit the impact workplace drama or office politics has on your workday.

happy workplace

Ignore Their Words

If you can’t ignore the person, at least ignore their words. Trying to defend yourself against them will only give some credibility to what was said. Respond only to direct action against you and even then, do so graciously and with a positive attitude.

Leave your ego out of it. Accept responsibility for your mistakes and then move on.

If You Can’t Beat Them…

…consider trying to view things from their perspective. Maybe this person who’s been critiquing your methods is actually correct and is not attacking you personally. Could it be that trying things their way might be the solution to your problems?

Embrace Your Enemy

Sometimes, you just have to try to get along. For the sake of your office, you want to try to get along with everyone. Try taking your foe to lunch to bury the hatchet or at least always greet them with a smile. Don’t let them get to you. Refuse to engage them and just treat them as you would wish they were treating you.

work lunch

Make Friends

Ally groups are one of the best defenses against a negative co-worker. The more allies you have, the better your reputation and the less defensive you will feel when attacked. Just remember – be friendly but leave your personal life at home.

Don’t forget two of your most powerful office allies: your boss and your company’s HR department. If you’re not sure how to deal with someone at work either of these can help you decide the best route to take, especially if your foe may be violating any of your company’s employee policies.

Uh oh, It’s a Frenemy

The hardest relationships to figure out are the true frenemies, those people you get along with under most circumstances but just can’t trust. They might be nice enough most of the time, but sometimes they let their jealousy and competition get the better of them. A frenemy is not to be trusted with secrets and should be kept at arm’s length. While it’s best to keep your enemies close, a frenemy should stay in the middle distance.

Read more for part of two of this subject, handling employee relationships from the manager perspective.

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