I’ll never forget the day I won a poster in kindergarten. I was so excited! As I sat back down at the little table with my prize, the girl next to me reached over and pinched me as hard as she could.
I am not nor have I ever been a jealous girl so I was baffled at her response. Why wasn’t she happy for me? Why was she being mean when I didn’t do anything at all except win a poster?
While that pinching incident alerted me that not every child shared my Pollyanna ways, I found that this same bizarre envy also showed up in my adult professional world, although it was usually cloaked in subtle, passive-aggressive ways and sadly, it usually came from people that I thought were friendly colleagues.
I’m not the only one that has experienced this. I’ve talked with countless other entrepreneurs who have also received the cold shoulder or haterade from people they assumed were cordial peers once they’ve become successful.
These types are what I call “business frenemies” – colleagues who are all happy to be your pal until you start doing better than them or getting attention that they think they should be getting. Suddenly, you’re the “competition”.
If they see you succeed, they feel threatened and then, consciously or subconsciously, they’ll start engaging in sore-loser behavior designed to poop on your glitter, rain on your success parade and remind you that you are not “all that”. They want you to know that they are the one who should be on that throne.
These are not the same as a straight up hater or troll. Those types are more in-your-face and obvious. Business frenemies are more subtle but they are more insidious because you think they have your best interests at heart…but they don’t.
Their attacks are often sly: underhanded digs that seem like jokes on the surface but are designed to undermine your joy or confidence, never acknowledging nor congratulating your wins or opportunities (they’ll be buddy-buddy and talking with you every day but if you get an accolade they are suddenly silent), or questioning your credibility to other people behind the scenes. Sometimes, they’ll be blatant: “Why did you get that award? I’ve been at this game longer than you.”
Why would a friend act like this? It is usually based on fear or self-worth issues.
In the Company of Women: Indirect Aggression Among Women: Why We Hurt Each Other and How to Stop coined a term for this: the Power Dead-Even Rule. They define it as this: “For a positive relationship to be possible between two women, the self-esteem and power of one must be, in the perception of each woman, similar in weight to the self-esteem and power of the other. These essential elements must be kept “dead even.” Exceptions might include situations where one woman is older and more experienced than the other, and therefore has more power a priori. Another might be a mentoring situation where one woman is actively working toward increasing the power of another. From our observations, women are somewhat more comfortable with a powerful woman who downplays their importance than one who does not.”
They further state on page 54: “Most of us have been taught to “be nice” and use indirect forms of aggression when we are upset. So when we sense that the Power Dead-Even Rule has been violated, we stomp off, gossip, snipe, snub, and withhold friendship” and “this indirect form of aggression, which is automatic to us, maintains the power and self-esteem of the person who feels angry and powerless.”
Although this book is directed at women and my experiences have been mostly with females, guys are not immune to it. I’ve also talked with men who’ve experienced this same crummy behavior from other males.
When we treat our colleagues in this manner, we erode the goodwill in our communities and spread a toxic vibe that not only keeps us feeling separate but also ruins the joy that our colleagues should be enjoying when they make their goal or achieve something great.
This diminishes their accomplishment but, worse yet, it creates a sour vibe that affects the frenemy’s ability to attract success as well.
A person who is grounded in their own worth would not pull this on anyone. They would celebrate your triumphs right there with you. If they cannot, this relationship risks becoming unhealthy for you.
What is the best path to take when a business frenemy shows up in your world?
You have a few options:
Refuse to engage. If they start throwing shade your way, it’s best to let them stew in their own juices. Do not fight fire with fire. Be the bigger person but feel free to ignore that energy. Instead, focus on the supportive friendships and colleagues in your orbit.
Send them a whole lotta love and compassion. Remember, they want you to feel small because they feel unimportant. Sending them positive vibes, even when they are being shitty, feels better than brooding.
Open up a dialogue. This is tricky because most of the time, they will deny it and try to turn it around on you. If you are going to directly confront them, be honest but as compassionate as possible: “Hey Betty…when you didn’t acknowledge my Oscar, I felt hurt. Can you tell me why you might have done that?” This alerts them that you noticed and that you were hurt by their actions. In the best case scenario, this might open up a healing conversation.
In some cases, you’ll need to get rid of them. If you sense you have a passive-aggressive jealous frenemy trying to bring you down, show them the door. You do not need this in your world. It will taint your ability to enjoy your success.
Whatever you do, do NOT downplay your success. Toot your horn and celebrate your wins! You DO deserve it, no matter what they think.
And, if you are guilty of being a business frenemy, examine your self. Where is this coming from? Why are you threatened by someone else’s achievement? How can you use your envy as fuel rather than seeing it as a negative reflection on you? And more importantly, how can you change your behavior so that you can be a true colleague and a good steward for your community?
The best road is one where we can walk together as true BFFs (business friends forever).
Celebrate your peers! Share their work! Cheer them on! Show up for their big moments and be the first one to throw the confetti!
That’s the kind of business friend I’d like to be. I know you do too. Let’s make that the norm, not the exception.
Your friend in business,
© Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady 2015
Want to create healthy connections with peers and other entrepreneurs? My post on BFF’s: BFFs! How To Start A “Business Friends Forever club and change the world.
1. Pat Helm, Susan Murphy, and Susan K. Golant, In the Company of Women (Tarcher 2003), 53-54. In the Company of Women: Indirect Aggression Among Women: Why We Hurt Each Other and How to Stop