How frenemies can help your career

Do you have a frenemy at work or otherwise?

If not, you should consider getting one.

Studies have shown that establishing this type of relationship with a coworker can be beneficial and may ultimately help you get ahead.

Keep reading to learn more about how this type of relationship is one worth developing.



What is a frenemy?

The term “frenemy” started popping up in casual conversations in the not too distant past.

Linguistically, the word is simply a combination of “friend” and “enemy.”

It refers to someone with whom you maintain a friendly relationship despite an underlying feeling of dislike or active rivalry.

Scientifically, it is known as an “ambivalent relationship.”

friend enemy frenemy at work


Social scientific study

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Lehigh University combined to create a study of their students.

They conducted a study in which pairs of students were asked to communicate with each other via instant messages. Some of the students were told to ask questions to foster a frenemy-ship between two students.

The students were asked to evaluate their frenemies’ work (a blog post).

Frenemies did a better job editing the work of their partner and also felt more feelings of empathy toward them, than the partners who were simply friendly with each other did.


Why did the frenemies do better?

The researchers concluded that the underlying reason for the results can be found in the relationship between the frenemies.

Frenemies get under the skin of each other in a way that friends and enemies do not.

Generally, as you focus on how a frenemy is irritating to you, it also causes you to think about other aspects of the frenemy as well, such as their career, activities and how they tick.

There is also an underlying desire to compete against frenemies and ultimately do better than them.

Since you are constantly in competition mode with a frenemy, it will make you work harder so you can do better.


How can a frenemy make you better at work?

Although this study was performed on college students, the same conclusions can be applied to work colleagues and other people in your life.

When you develop a frenemy you can expect the following results:

  • A keener understanding of your frenemy.
  • An innate sense of competition with your frenemy.
  • A desire to work harder so you can perform better than your frenemy.

You can also have frenemies outside of work, who can help to motivate you and also provide great feedback on various career related issues.

This is especially useful when the person is well connected, smart and is doing well in their career.


Although it may not seem desirable to foster a relationship with someone you don’t particularly care for, it is actually a good idea.

If you have a relevant coworker or person you do not particularly like, instead of steering clear of the person, get close instead. Find out what makes this person tick, develop a frenemy-ship, and use the friction to your advantage.

Your work and career can benefit from it.

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