Remember in high school when you ate lunch everyday with your best friends: your old faithful confidants who would save a seat for you if you were late to class, defend you against the mean girls and the bullies, and even try out for the team with you even though they had no skills just to support your grand delusions of becoming a soccer star? Ah yes, blissful memories of innocent times.
Fast forward a few years, what happened? High school is now the workplace. If you’re late, someone will just happen to mention it to the boss. Instead of a couple of besties who have your back, you’re surrounded by the mean girls and the bullies. And no one is sacrificing a perfectly manicured fingernail to help you with anything, much less to help you become any type of star unless we’re talking about a fallen star. Then yes, they’ll stampede to be first in line for that. The craziest part? Now you have to eat lunch with them, and maybe even share office space. Yep. Welcome to a life with office frenemies.
Upon first glance, the office frenemy looks, walks and talks like a normal person. However, underneath it all, you know she is plotting your downfall. Don’t expect any seat-saving activities here, no, she’ll take your spot in the blink of an eye, because everyone knows you are the rising star and everyone wants to be you. If your pen goes missing, you will already know who took it. It’s the oldest sabotage trick in the book. She may smile when you walk into the room, but, was that a spontaneous eye-color change you just saw? From brown to a monstrous yellow?
It’s a good thing you’ve rehearsed your survival strategy. Let’s rehash:
- Do not make direct eye contact. Smile at her nose. That will make her feel insecure and weaken her resolve to get you fired.
- Don’t get too familiar. Just talk about the weather or the seasons. This is certain to not offend her, decreasing the chances she’ll go to the boss and complain.
- Text your real friends often, updating them on the meanies you got stuck working with. Laughing about it will put you in a good mood, plus she can’t chat to you if you’re obviously busy with your phone. And finally,
- Pack your things well in advance so that as soon as the bell rings, I mean, the clock strikes 5 p.m., you can blast out of there as fast as you ran on that soccer field so long ago.
Check, check, check, and check.
After more than a few encounters with these office frenemies, I had my survival strategy down to a science. I was invincible. I could smell an OF from a mile away. I could discern the special tap tap of her stilettos as she made her way to my office for another battle round. Even though we never actually had a battle, I have played the whole thing out in my mind many times before, just in case. I would NOT be ambushed. Nope, not me.
Oh no, is she coming to me? Well, she’s looking right at me. Groooan, she’s definitely coming to me, smiling with her yellow eyes. What now? She opens her mouth. Then this comes out “Hey girl, want to meet up with a few of us after work for a drink?” What. System overload. No immediate response for this. All defenses stand down. I take a deep breath. Smile sheepishly. Is that joy that I feel? I’m so happy I could cry. She’s so nice, I love her! So I muster up as much coolness as possible from every corner of my being and squeak “Sure, thank you.” OF responds, “Great”, smiles and walks away. Note to self, text real friends and tell them we need a new strategy, possible office friend found.
This experience completely changed my work-life. I realized that I was allowing a few bad experiences from my past to set the tone for everything to come. This made me distrustful and in many ways unproductive. I had excluded the possibility of making office allies and even of making a real office friend.
Let this be a lesson to all of us career girls. Although your main priority at work is to bring value to the company and to advance your professional life, always be open-minded with your co-workers and give yourself the chance to form a real relationship. The relationships which are limited to the office will be successful once you’ve established mutual trust and respect, making you more productive at work. As a bonus, you may end up forming a bond which extends beyond the office. Try it, let’s break the office frenemy curse and become something much more valuable.