How to Handle All Kinds of Frenemies

Handling your frenemies takes a lot of class.

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #403

The term frenemy is used to describe “personal, geopolitical, and commercial relationships both among individuals and groups or institutions,” according to Collins Dictionary. Basically someone you can’t stand, but for whatever reason, you have to be cordial towards. Be it work, friends, or family, frenemies come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, yet they consistently make you want to bang your head against the wall until you lose consciousness.

But being proper people, we have to take the high road and focus more on the friend part than the enemy factor. Is said frenemy really that bad of a person? So bad that you can’t turn your shoulder and move on? Sometimes the answer is yes, and other times, it may be no. Regardless, frenemies are all around us and we have to learn how to properly handle them.

Tip #1: The Corporate Frenemy

Jared from Atlanta wrote me about his own personal hell: a corporate frenemy named April who works at a competitor to his company. He said the rivalry is worse than the Red Sox and Yankees, Ali and Forman, or Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant. It’s one thing having to bid against her for contracts, but no matter what Jared did, he couldn’t avoid running into April at conferences or networking events. However, even though he despised her company and often lost jobs to her, he told me he didn’t hate her as a person. In fact, he told me, “To be honest, I have nothing against her other than us being competitors for literally everything. If I didn’t dislike her company so much, I think we’d actually be friends.” When I saw that, I thought, “Great! There is a glimmer of hope here!” But the more and more we chatted, Jared couldn’t help but bring it back to a key factor into why they are frenemies in the first place; at the end of the day, he and April will do whatever it takes to push the other out of a job to win the business. Yeesh. Now, that’s a hard thing to get over. I mean, unlike a friend, he’s not going to give a high five since she took money away from him, nor congratulate her on a big win. I understand and I’ve been in his shoes. Yet despite disliking my competition’s victories, I do think there is a way to handle the corporate frenemy with grace … and it doesn’t involve creating a Voodoo doll to their likeness and jabbing it with needles.

Bottom line, in business, there are no friends. Yes, you can be friendly, but when there is money and power involved, personal relationships can get murky. So, when dealing with corporate frenemies, don’t feel obligated to be super-invested in a long term friendship… just don’t burn bridges.  That is key. As I wrote about burning bridges in REPLY ALL… And Other Ways To Tank Your Career, I mentioned no matter how much you loath someone (or their company) don’t be the one to light the match that burns the bridge. Here, with Jared and April, taking the “it’s just business” mentality is the best—and most mannerly option—to proceed with their “relationship” since neither has plans of finding another job.  Granted he may not like working against her, but does he have to curse her name because she wins and he loses?  Not at all. But he also doesn't have to be completely honest with her about his work either. If she asks how business is, Jared doesn’t need to go into detail to answer the question. As well, he isn’t responsible to for helping her further her career. He’s on his own and so is she. But with that, if they run into each other they don’t have to give the evil eye stare down like two teenagers. Smile, shake hands, and always remain cordial.

Tip #2: The Relationship Frenemy

Have you ever had a friend of your partner that you just can’t stand? I mean, someone that is just downright nasty and rude to the core who makes your life a living hell every time you’re around them? I have. We all have! And unlike the Corporate Frenemy, where you can dodge them when needed and not have to socialize, the Relationship Frenemy make their presence known. It’s like being at the beach, watching the waves role in, enjoying the sun on your face, and then seeing a seagull fly by and drop a number two right on your head. Just when you think things are going well, you get crapped on! Yup, dealing with The Corporate Frenemy is just like that. But what are you going to do? Not go to the beach because of some nasty seagulls? Nope. You also shouldn't not socialize with your partner’s other friends simply because one bad egg ruins it for everyone else. Knowing this, when things get to the point of going crazy, I recommend taking an alternate route over telling them how terrible they are. That’s not really proper, folks.