5 Types of Frenemies at Work

These relationships are more common than you might think.


8 May, 2017

5 Types of Frenemies at Work | BEAMSTART News

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We spend more time at work with our colleagues than at home with our friends and family. And when you account for the fact that we are pretty terrible at taking time off -- more than half of workers don’t take all of their paid vacation time -- that’s a lot of time spent in the office.

No matter how great your company culture is, you aren’t going to get along with everyone all the time. That’s OK. People in high stakes situations, such as launching a startup, are allowed to occasionally lock horns. But work interactions are rarely only positive or negative.

What these relationships in the grey area -- described as “indifferent” and “ambivalent” -- actually look like is the subject of a recent scientific review conducted by researchers from Rutgers University, University of North Carolina and Lehigh University.

The researchers describe indifferent relationships as having “low frequency of contact, involvement, emotional intensity, depth, or importance.” For many people, the co-workers they see every day fall into this category.

Nearly half of the participants in the review nominated their co-workers as leisure companions (for example, you share lunch breaks), daily interaction partners such as clients, service providers such as office janitors and past associates such as a former team member.

Meanwhile, ambivalent relationships are characterized as involving “co-activated feelings of positivity and negativity toward a relational partner, and are captured by research on competitive friends, blended relationships, and competent jerks and lovable fools.”

Read on for what some of the most common frenemy relationships look like.


You may have a favorite client and enjoy talking to them, but you can also dread their calls because you know that what should be a 20-minute conversation will turn into an hour because of how chatty they are.

Managers and mentors

According to the researchers, you can feel ambivalently about your supervisors if they have super high standards but you know they want you to succeed. “Ambivalence may also be more likely to occur in relationships that are difficult to terminate, like a supervisor-subordinate relationship.”

Additionally, even mentor/mentee relationships can be fraught with uncertainty. “Mentors, too, are more likely to have ambivalent relationships with protégés who achieve peer status relative to those who remain lower status,” explained the researchers.

Anxious people

The workplace can be stress-inducing, but for people who already are prone to anxiety, that can lead to ambivalent relationships, especially if you waffle between wanting to really get to know someone and fearing that you’ll be tossed aside.

Two peas in a pod

If you have a friendship with someone at work and you have a lot in common, while you might think that would lead to close ties, in fact it can actually create a more ambivalent relationship

“Zou and Ingram found that managers are more likely to feel competitively toward friends who are similar in terms of gender, social rank, and social network composition and configuration; these similarities may also make partner’s successes more painful,” wrote the researchers.

Observant people

If you are highly aware of your surroundings and have the ability to read a room, you could also find yourself in ambivalent relationships with your colleagues because what is a strength in business situations can lead you to notice even the slightest shifts in your friendships.

Ultimately, since having a frenemy is inherently unpredictable, there are both positives and negatives attached to these interactions. While ambivalent and indifferent relationships can lead to increased blood pressure and stress, they can also might make you more adept at thinking on your feet.

“Individuals experiencing emotional ambivalence are more cognitively flexible, which enhances their ability to attend to divergent perspectives and engage in balanced consideration of those perspectives,” cited the researchers. “Accordingly, individuals in ambivalent relationships may be better able to collaborate, cope with competition, improve information exchange, and display higher job performance, because of the ambivalent emotions these relationships engender.”

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