Love Thy Office Frenemies

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The workplace is perfectly designed for love-hate relationships. Turns out, that's great for your work ethic.

Friendship at work can be a special kind of torture.

We spend most of our waking hours with our coworkers, so right off the bat, we have a lot in common with them. But the intensity of a work friendship can sometimes fluctuate between two opposites: we love them or we hate them.

Shimul Melwani experienced this kind of tortured love-hate relationship at work, and she chose to find the silver lining: the proof is in her Harvard Business Review article, "Love-Hate Relationships at Work Might Be Good For You."

Melwani tells Money Talking host Charlie Herman the workplace seems perfectly designed for these kinds of relationships. 

"We're expected to cooperate with our team members," Melwani said, "but then we're also expected to compete with them for resources and promotions and time with our leader and money."

She added, however, that love-hate friendships might actually improve your work in the office more than purely positive or purely negative relationships ever could. Having a friend at work can be distracting, and if you have a someone you just despise, you can dismiss them completely. A love-hate friendship keeps you both empathetic and a little angry, so it can motivate you to work harder to understand what is going on and perhaps find a way to get along better.

The key is to minimize the damage your inevitable frenemy can cause to your psyche. As Melwani puts it:

  1. Focus on the love. If you have to pick one side of this relationship to fixate on, keep your attention on the good parts. Enjoy the positive aspects of having a partner in crime as much as you can.
  2. Have some self-compassion. Understand where your negative feelings come from. If you feel competitive and resentful toward someone you also respect and like, the consequence is often to feel guilty. Give yourself a break. This kind of thing is normal. Teams, by default, reward people for acting cooperatively and then also expect people to individually shine: this is fundamentally confusing and it's okay to feel conflicted.

Melwani said most of all, it's important to find a balance.

"Just having lots of different kinds of relationships [at work] is really what's going to help you," Melwani said. You can have that best friend at work that keeps you sane and satisfied, a frenemy or two to push you to do better, and maybe even a straight-up enemy, to keep things interesting.