How to Deal With Frenemies at Work

Do you have a Frenemy at work? Do you find your heart rate speeding up as you reach for the door of your office? Do you quietly think of skipping work in favor of going to the beach or maybe snowboarding, depending on the time of year and country you live in?

You are not alone. In fact in 2009, 80% of Canadian men and women were reported to having been frullied at work (Frenemy + bullied).

In my continuing research on psychology, I’ve now recognized the need to create awareness on this growing problem. But the fact that it’s a big problem does not automatically mean awareness. Frenemyship is a behind-the-scenes and thickly-veiled epidemic.

That is why I’ve released this detailed report, which will cover the following subjects:


  • How to Identify a Frenemy (Q&A)
  • Examples of Frenemy Behavior
  • 5 Tips on How to Deal with a Frenemy at Work


Q: Isn’t “frenemy” just a dumb buzz word that means “enemy”? I’m fired, aren’t I?

A: Oh yes. Anyway, you pose a very good question. Frenemy is the enemy’s cousin. They share the same interests: they only want what’s best for them and they do not mind pushing you aside to get what they want. The difference is how open they are about their intentions.

While an enemy will make their selfish desires clear, a Frenemy will try and hide them from you.

Q: But isn’t honesty the best policy?

A: Yes, it is, Q. But many people in the Western world suffer from problems such as low self-esteem, insecurity. anxiety, self-delusions, drug-induced hallucinations, concussions, psychopathy and chronic serial killing. Due these conditions, many people are terrified to lose your support, despite their bad habits. That means Frenemies shoulder the responsibily of balancing a friendship with you, while nurturing their dark side where they are plotting against you.

Q: You sound very paranoid.

A: That sounds like Frenemy talk to me.

Q: Whoops sorry! So where did you learn about Frenemies?

A: Sadly from my own experiences and observations. In the next section I will discuss a few Frenemy activities that I have witnessed over the last couple of years.

Q: Great! Thanks for being so awesome!

A: No problem 🙂



Fran* and I started out as besties. We were inseparable. At my work 99% of communication is by email, so our inseparableness was electronic in nature.

Electronic friend-making is dangerous in many ways. For instance, I was not able to read Fran’s body language. Fran was able to disguise her evilness and earn my trust by saturating her emails with smiley faces, winky faces, LOLs, and generous amounts of exclamation marks. The happy ones.

In meetings she would boisterously say. “we work so well together, Cindy! I COULD HUG YOU!”

She said this because the projects we work on together tend to be more complicated, picky and high-profile than other ones in my department. So it really helps to work with people whom you can actually communicate with in a relaxed and friendly manner.

That was how I felt then.

Now, as I go to type “Fran” into an outgoing email, a feverish chill comes over me. I reach for my thermos, containing vodka and grape flavored Monster, to take me somewhere else. To remind me that no matter what happens, tomorrow is another day. To give me the strength to press “send.”

I say a little drunken prayer.

So, what happened to cause this change?

A small reason for this issue is me. When I started working on this nitpicky project, I did go thru a slightly bigger learning curve than most people would.

Because of my ADHD, when I start a new job, my learning curve is a longer and more painul process than normal. To briefly explain, if someone with ADHD is learning a new skill, we tend to say, “oh I get it!” too quickly, then go into autopilot. That autopilot gets us into trouble because we only know the basics, but every task has exceptions.

As these little exceptions come along, we plow through them as if they’re no different. Then our bosses talk to us and say, “remember what I said? When blah blah is like blar, you’re supposed to blabitty boo instead of lala balablahface” and we say, “Right! Duh!” and it takes a few more misses before we start training our brain to pay full attention and to keep our eyes open for these things.

Eventually we get it. And we get really good at it. It just takes time and patience.

So back to Fran. In the beginning I made some mistakes. My team was very understanding of this as I was just new. Fran’s team was much harder on me. Since I was wet behind the ears, my response to that was, “Ok I pretty much deserved that. I should have paid more attention.”

As I progressed and became more confident and capable, Fran and I continued to send each other sugary, smiley emails.

Then one day, long story short, an email was sent within my department that accidentally included her as a recipient. The email was a simple check-up to make sure something was getting done. Fran reads this email that is not for her, and decides to forward it to her higher-ups and all their higher-ups, and writes:

“Looks like another case of [Pertobello’s department] [screwing up] again.”

Looks like…another case…of my department…screwing up again.

How do I know about this? Because the higher-ups bounced the email all over the place, and it eventually got back to the sender, who called me over and showed it to me.

I was able to forgive Fran for this, because her bosses pressured her, and she wanted to be a good employee. I get that. I do.

But it’s only gotten worse from there.

Since then, any time something goes wrong, and I really do mean any time, and I really do mean something, but I don’t necessarily mean wrong, because it could be the most trivial thing. It could just be something that is not going perfectly smooth. It is often times the fault of an outside party, not anyone in my department or in Fran’s. But somehow, Fran finds a way to blame me.

Sometimes it gets so twisted, my brain can’t even process what just happened. I do extra things to keep her team happy and to keep things running smoothly, then they use those things against me if they can. I remember telling Fran that I would start doing this for her, and she acted so grateful and excited about it. This is typical frenemy behavior.

The main thrust of Fran’s behavior is that if anything went wrong, be it a computer error, an outside party error, (two things that happened all the time), or just something that slipped through the cracks, I would receive long, detailed emails from Fran explaining why specifically it was my fault (ending with LOL’s and TEEHEE’s, of course).

I often had to get my manager involved to help me fight these allegations. And I hate the sound of me defending myself. I’d rather take the blame than be one of those people who’s always trying to save their owns butts. But in this case I really had to get over that and fight for my survival.

What Went Wrong?

During these difficult times, Fran maintained her gushiness and over-the-top friendliness. This caused me to question my own sanity on many occasions.

It might not seem like much, but it is much.

With the work we do, we are in constant contact. So let’s say a month goes by after she’s frullied me. During that time I will slowly start to trust her again, and think, “ok she wouldn’t do that to me again. She’s obviously realized her mistake and wants to be my friend again.”

Time and time again, this line of reasoning has proven to be wrong, wrong, WRONG.

And that brings me to almost present day. Sipping Vodka. Listening to sad music about drug abuse and how it ruins friendships. A lone tear in the corner of my eye, wondering if it’s even worth it to fall down my cheek.


Until recently, when I made some changes to my attitude.



About two months ago, one of these ordeals actually made me cry. When this happened, my manager said, 1) this isn’t even a big deal because nothing bad actually happened, and 2) this is an opportunity to make things better.

It was that day that things in my brain started to shut down. Things like, caring what Fran thinks.

Tip 1: Do not care what they think 

Do you know why you shouldn’t care? Because 99% of the time, THIS is what they are thinking, “la la la la la bumble bee stings hurt meow meow meow meow KITTIES LOL!!!! 🙂 🙂 😉 ”

There is no point in wasting any energy trying to understand someone whose mind is occupied with thoughts like these.

Tip 2: Smile and turn the other cheek

As you know, Fran has a bad habit of arguing until I basically give up. That is one of her great tactics. The other day, she accused me of doing something wrong, and I just emailed her back and said, “Thank you, Fran 🙂 ” It felt so good to deny her the pleasure of arguing with me.

Tip 3: Remember that you are better than them

Frenemies treat you the way they do because you are a better person than them, and that makes them upset. They are jealous of something you have or something you do well.

If there is one thing you should take away from this article, it’s this:

Frenemies feel threatened by your very competence as a human being.

Remember this and celebrate it.

Tip 4: Pity them 

It dawned on me that I had 3 major things going for me that Fran did not:

  1. My managers are supportive. Her managers are punch-throat.
  2. I have more time to be flexible with my work, whereas Fran spends all day on the phone.
  3. I know the difference between “you’re” and “your.” Fran, however, does not.

It’s difficult to keep the anger down when people treat you unfairly, but replacing anger with PITY is much easier.

Tip 5: View them as children

What do you do with a child who is having a temper tantrum? Ignore, ignore, ignore. The child wants you to wait on them hand and foot to get them to stop crying.

Nah, just leave them and they’ll have no choice but to calm down on their own.

Fran loves attention. It is apparent in meetings because she is always nervously making jokes, and laughing really hard at her own comments, (tres classy).

Do not give Frenemies the attention they seek. Starve them of it, and they will go looking for it somewhere else.


Please keep these tips in mind as you’re on  your way to work, debating whether to leave the country and start a new life where it’s warm and sunny. Frenemies are frustrating because you cannot simply steer clear of them. They make it complicated for you by demanding your love, support and attention. If you are a caring person at all (which you most likely are and that’s why they are frullying you in the first place), they will sense it on you and try to take advantage of it.

Remember that people are not entitled to receive your kindness. If these people are not showing gratitude for your good work, then do not waste your time trying to please them.

Keep in mind that their brains are wired differently, so if you say to them, “You’re being unreasonable,” then they’ll take that to mean “Your reasons babble to me.”

Haha, I really enjoy doing that.

*some names have been changed.


Update – September 2013:

It is 2 years later and things have much improved. Did the chick learn her lesson and apologize and give me concert tickets to see Billy Talent? Sadly, not yet. BUT she has since changed roles, and I have had the pleasure of working with some very nice people in her place. My work has improved as well. It has become more easy-to-manage and there has been software installed to help us keep track of things properly. For awhile I only had to deal with Fran’s awful jokes in meetings, which was a win, but still it brought back unpleasant memories.

Then, not long ago, it was decided that my team no longer needed to attend those monthly meetings, and now I’m on cloud nine! AND I’m going to see Billy Talent in October. Things are 200% better! Always stay positive, and remember that these people are not better than you, and don’t ever give them any reason to think they are. You, the non-bully, are the better person. Unless you’re sub-bullying other people, in some sort of projecting anger kind of way. If that is the case, you should probably go to a psychologist, and focus your energies on being awesome instead.


About pertobello

I live in Toronto but I'm from the east coast originally. I like photography, psychology, writing, pictures, the brain, literature and the creation of, taking snapshots, therapy (of myself and others), manuscripts, digital renderings of events and places, exploring the capablities and workings of the human mind, transcribing my thoughts and stories into a readable format. Wow I have an impressive list of interests!!
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6 Responses to How to Deal With Frenemies at Work

  1. Jennie says:

    Ah, frenemies. How they bring joy to our lives. Not.

    Great blog!

  2. whatsaysyou says:

    Thanks for sharing a great post about frenemies at work. In fact frenemies can also be flatmates from hell or someone in one’s social circle.

  3. T. P. Lewis says:

    Love the shot of Fry with the electric shotgun.

  4. adobe says:

    Valuable information. Lucky me I discovered your website by accident, and I’m surprised why this twist of fate didn’t came about in advance!
    I bookmarked it.

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