How to deal with an office "frenemy"

Career & Workplace Work/Family Balance

I’ve been listening to a close friend of mine talk about one of her co-workers who tries to sabotage her on the job. My friend S. says that her co-worker will bring her in a muffin every day, all smiles and “how was your night?”, and then tell their boss if S. took 5 extra minutes of a lunch break. S. tells me story after story of little things here and there that her co-worker does to get one step ahead. Some examples are not so little. They work in a small, but competitive, team and every week brings some new way her co-worker tries to one-up her. I asked S.if she retaliates or brings it up to her boss, but she refuses, saying she doesn’t want to bring this pettiness to her boss. At the same, S. tells me that her co-worker has a very bubbly, likable personality (when not trying to steal S’s job), so she is torn. Personally, I wouldn’t be torn, I’d be spitting mad, but I’m getting off track here…
Because of the sheer amount of time that full-time jobs consume, it can be difficult to find friendships outside of work, which can make it tempting to seek friendship within the office. Sometimes, though, these relationships can turn sour, especially if it’s a coworker with whom you might potentially compete for a promotion. At work, you’ve probably had a “frenemy” or two. A frenemy acts cordial in general, but he or she makes snide remarks and puts you down in front of colleagues and superiors. We all know people like that, maybe we have even been one?
Unfortunately, it’s not so simple writing these people off – after all, your livelihood depends on being civil with these people. When dealing with office frenemies, always save your correspondence with the person, and be confident in your capabilities. Although office dynamics vary from place to place, these two strategies will help anyone who must cope with such difficult coworkers. By following these guidelines, you can maintain a good reputation at work, and you will show the frenemy that you are not an easy target.
The best way to deal with office frenemies is to save all correspondence. In the event that your job is at stake, it’s important to have evidence showing the work that you do. Save e-mails and other written communication from your frenemies, and at the same time, don’t reveal too much in your own e-mails. Or as my mom always said, “Don’t ever put anything in writing that you don’t want the rest of the world to read” (that woman is always right).

Always keep lines of communication open. A common tactic of frenemies is to deny knowledge that you passed along a crucial bit of information that they overlooked. Instead of taking the blame, they might project it onto you, accusing you of never having given them the information. To avoid this, always clarify important conversations in writing. When the frenemy tries to say, “You never told me that I was supposed to send a status report on this project by Friday,” you can respond by saying that you did indeed send it, and refer him or her to the e-mail. Another tactic that a frenemy might use is to take credit for your ideas. If your coworker is working with you on the same project and is attempting to do this, document your progress in regular intervals (once every other day, for example), and e-mail it to that coworker as well as the project supervisor.
Another effective way of dealing with frenemies is to be confident. When you show that you have things under control, it’s more difficult for someone to undermine your achievements. Also, when you speak often at team meetings and provide transparency to your contributions to the company, people will have less reason to question what you’re up to in your own cubicle. If you rarely leave your desk to speak with other coworkers and someone accuses you of slacking off, that rumor might effectively spread around. However, if you interact with your colleagues regularly and keep the appropriate people updated on your projects, it’s much more difficult for someone to make false accusations about you.
These strategies can help you to deal with office frenemies, and at the same time, these guidelines can minimize the risk of establishing frenemies at all. As cumbersome as they can be to your job and sanity, it’s vital to face them in a straightforward manner to diffuse tension and make for a more productive job atmosphere.