This is another topic that a viewer has requested: frenemies, those individuals who feign friendship while harbouring hidden agendas.

These “frenemies” can be particularly challenging to navigate in a workplace setting, as they blur the lines between ally and adversary, often leaving unsuspecting colleagues feeling betrayed or undermined.

In this article, we’ll delve into the intricacies of frenemies in the workplace, exploring how to spot them and understand their motivations.

In the extended YouTube version, I also discuss seven practical strategies for dealing effectively with a frenemy. Click here to watch.

Spotting a Frenemy

Identifying a frenemy amidst the sea of coworkers requires a keen sense of observation and intuition.

While they may outwardly display friendliness and camaraderie, certain behaviours and subtle cues can betray their true intentions.

Here are some common signs to watch out for:

1. Inconsistency In Behaviour

Frenemies often exhibit inconsistent behaviour, alternating between moments of warmth and friendliness and periods of coldness or indifference.

They may shower you with compliments one day and undermine you the next, leaving you feeling confused and uncertain about their true intentions.

In my experience, whenever you feel confused by someone’s behaviour, it’s a huge red flag.

2. Selective Disclosure

Pay attention to what your colleague chooses to share with you. Frenemies may selectively disclose information or withhold crucial details to maintain a sense of control or leverage over you.

They may feign openness and vulnerability while strategically concealing their true thoughts or motives.

Another top piece of advice here is to pay far more attention to what someone does and how they treat you than what they say. Actions speak louder than words.

3. Backhanded Compliments

Frenemies are masters of the backhanded compliment – subtle digs disguised as praise.

They may offer compliments that contain subtle criticisms or undermine your achievements, subtly eroding your confidence while maintaining a facade of friendliness.

In a work scenario, they may say something like, ‘Great presentation, shame everyone was so distracted’ or ‘Great report, it would have been better if there weren’t so many typos.’

In a friend or family scenario, you might hear something like, ‘Lovely dress, it’ll look even better when you’ve lost weight’ or ‘Oh, you’ve bought a new car! I had one of those ten years ago’.

4. Exclusion and Alienation

Frenemies may subtly exclude you from social gatherings, professional opportunities, or important discussions, subtly signalling their disapproval or disdain.

They may orchestrate situations that make you feel isolated or marginalised within the team, fostering a sense of insecurity and unease.

I’ve seen this recently with a client. Their entire team was invited to a colleague’s wedding, but he wasn’t included—he was the only one not to get an invite.

5. Sabotage and Undermining

Watch out for instances of sabotage or undermining behaviour directed towards you.      

Frenemies may subtly sabotage your projects, spread rumours or gossip to tarnish your reputation or steal credit for your ideas or contributions while maintaining a facade of innocence.

I worked with a client experiencing a frenemy a couple of years ago. She told her friend about a job she was thinking of applying for. Her frenemy secretly applied (behind her back), and she only found out when she bumped into her at an interview at another organisation.

The Motivations Behind Frenemies

Understanding the motivations driving frenemies is essential for deciphering their behaviour and effectively navigating workplace dynamics.

At the heart of frenemy relationships often lie feelings of jealousy, envy, and even Schadenfreude – the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.

Jealousy and Envy

Frenemies may feel threatened by your success, competence, or likability, leading them to harbour feelings of jealousy or envy. 

They may covet your achievements, opportunities, or relationships and seek to undermine you in subtle ways to elevate themselves in comparison.

I often see this type of behaviour in two kinds of people:

  1. Those who were brought up to believe that they are ‘special’ and display narcissistic traits of grandiosity and entitlement

  2. Those who with low self-esteem and low self-worth

Both can harbour secret or not-so-secret jealousy and envy. It can also be a learned behaviour, absorbed by watching a parent or primary caregiver act that way growing up.


I have created an entire video and article on Schadenfreude. I’ll release them next week, so ensure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss it!

In some cases, frenemies may derive pleasure from seeing you fail or suffer setbacks. They may secretly revel in your misfortune, whether a project gone awry, a missed promotion, or a personal challenge, finding satisfaction in your downfall or discomfort.

Most narcissists get great joy from witnessing or even causing others’ misfortune. We call that narcissistic supply.

The Wrap-up

Navigating relationships with frenemies in the workplace can be daunting, but with awareness, insight, and strategic thinking, you can effectively protect yourself from their toxic influence.

By understanding the signs of frenemy behaviour, recognising the underlying motivations of jealousy, envy and schadenfreude, and implementing practical strategies for self-preservation, you can navigate workplace dynamics with confidence and integrity.

Remember, your success and well-being are ultimately determined by your actions, choices, and resilience.

What Next?

Again, in the extended YouTube version of this article, I also discuss seven practical strategies for dealing effectively with a frenemy. Click here to watch.

If you do head over to YouTube, please be sure to hit the ‘like’ and ‘subscribe’ buttons. It seems like such an insignificant thing to do, but it really does make a huge difference in helping me grow the channel.

As always, thanks for your continued support.

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