By Robert Half International
The old adage "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" conveniently omits any reference to frenemies -- people who seem like an ally one minute and an adversary the next. You know the type: he happily collaborates on a project, but then claims full credit as soon as it wraps.
Unfortunately, distinguishing a true comrade from someone who has an eye on your job can seem like a job in itself. Here are five tips to protect yourself:
1. Look at yourself first.
Before you address a colleague's iffy behavior, look at your own. You could be contributing to a competitive environment with your own actions. Subtle moves and attitudes -- assuming you know more than a colleague because you've worked for the company longer, for example -- can make an enemy out of a work friend.
2. Avoid assumptions.
Misunderstandings sour more workplace relationships than fundamental conflicts do. If you've heard that a colleague has been talking behind your back, for instance, don't overreact. If it's a minor matter, try to let it slide. If it seems more significant, ask the person about it directly. You might find that you were misinformed.
If that doesn't seem to be the case, consider what might have led to the perceived slight. Ask whether it was a reaction to something you said or did. Regardless of your frenemy's response, you've established that you are aware of her behavior. If problems continue, you'll know to treat her much more cautiously going forward.
3. Resist retaliating.
When you've confirmed that a colleague has done something objectionable, like taking credit for one of your ideas, it's tempting to respond in kind, or at least to bad-mouth the person to other colleagues. This can turn a minor tiff into a major battle. Indulging in gamesmanship at work not only makes you look petty and untrustworthy, but it also takes up time and energy that's better spent on work. (You can read about some famous cases of people taking revenge here.)
4. Get it in writing.
You can protect yourself from a frenemy without shutting down the lines of communication. In fact, you should err on the side of overcommunicating -- preferably in writing -- when you're in doubt about someone's behavior. Whenever possible, use email for your interactions.
If the relationship becomes more counterproductive, an email exchange can be referred to indefinitely, unlike a half-remembered phone call or hallway discussion. The knowledge that a record exists could prevent a would-be adversary from misrepresenting the facts in the first place.
If you work closely with your frenemy, a clear separation of labor can save you a lot of trouble. An email at the outset of a project that clearly defines your respective responsibilities can prevent misunderstandings and make it much more difficult for a colleague to take advantage of you.
5. Consider your boss's point of view.
Prematurely complaining to your boss about a shaky workplace relationship can escalate the conflict. Before you bring the matter to your manager's attention, think about how you'd want the situation to be handled if you were the boss. If you're having trouble deciding, write out a "just the facts" version of your complaint, omitting any subjective judgments or personal gripes. If it still sounds like something your boss would want to know about, present it as objectively as possible, explaining how the situation threatens productivity.
Give every colleague the benefit of the doubt, at least initially. If your trust turns out to have been misplaced, keeping shared goals in mind -- a more productive workplace, a more satisfying career -- can help you live and work with the problem.
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