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Working with Difficult People: Part 3

8 Feb

There are times when through collaboration at work, we forge bonds that stand the test of time. And then again, there are times when we find friends that turn out to be frenemies. This post is dedicated to those special people out there who suck the life-force from you—the vampires of the workplace who drain your blood supply to a trickle. This unique type of difficult person at work is called: The Friend Who Wasn’t.


My experience with frenemies at work has been limited to the female variety, but I’m sure that the male ones also exist. Either way, it’s a variation on the same theme. In the extreme, the Friend Who Wasn’t moves in the for the kill by luring you into a trusting state, then they execute a power-play, back-stabbing action before you realize that you need to make a substantial investment in garlic. If you can avert this type of outcome, then she’s just mildly irritating.

Here are some warning signs:

  1. Bending over backwards to help. This “friend” offers to stay late, help you with menial tasks and otherwise ingratiate him- or herself to you. There’s a motivation for this, which you will later learn about. Don’t take this at face value.
  2. Telling you their life story and innermost secrets. This is particularly a tendency with women, who share secrets in the process of building friendships. But this person goes beyond, by sharing information that’s a bit too intense. They have no boundaries and want to dump testimonials on you far too often. It may get a bit embarrassing. At all costs, be careful about sharing personal information with anyone who’s too forthcoming. It could signal issues you don’t have time or inclination to explore.
  3. Putting you on a pedestal. At first, this “friend” seems to worship you and feel like you can do no wrong. Really, no one is perfect, and neither are you, so don’t trust this behavior. Everyone makes mistakes, and the first time you do, the fall will hurt. Badly. Because The Friend Who Wasn’t’s pedestal has a trap-door like a hangman’s platform.

The best way to deal with the Friend Who Wasn’t and avoid unpleasant outcomes?

  1. Keep your distance. Build and maintain boundaries. Be courteous but non-committal in your dedication of time to this “friend.” By all means—do not go out for cocktails with this “friend.”
  2. Seek out friendships with people who will tell you when you are full of shit, and who will support you in times of need. Don’t buy into the extremes of “friends” who see work as a place for maneuvering and manipulation. The purpose of time at work is just that—work. Don’t hang out with people who want to turn it into a soap opera or reality TV show.
  3. Stay right-sized at work. Hire and work for people who have similar professional values. Keep your head on straight and don’t be led astray by people who have ulterior motives—including those who kiss up to you inexplicably or give you an unnecessarily hard time over nothing. Know yourself and don’t let anyone make you grander or lesser than you are.

My personal experiences with Friends Who Weren’t happened years ago, at a time when I was too immature and unaware to see the danger signs. I came away with a few scars but otherwise survived to tell some pretty interesting stories about the unbelievable things that people can do to themselves and others (which will not be published here or anywhere by me).

Perhaps the best way to summarize is this: Real life is MUCH more interesting than fiction, and it’s better to observe pathological behavior at work from the sidelines than to be in the line of fire.