How to Handle Frienemies

Sun Tzu wisely advises army generals, project managers, and leaders of any ilk to “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” But what about our “Frienemies?” Where should we keep them? I’m guessing anyone who has had an initiative derailed by a frienemy would recommend a location where the sun does not shine.

A frienemy is that confounding blend of a friend and an enemy. In business, the frienemy is best known for saying all the right things and doing all the wrong ones. Spinning meetings out of control with irrelevant questions or tangential diatribes, splintering teams and causing discord by ferrying ill will back and forth between disparate groups, smiling at you and nodding in feigned acquiescence all the while, frienemies are the hobgoblins of productivity. Sharp leaders intent on moving their organization toward a brighter future quickly recognize these black clouds looming over the path to success, patiently waiting to rain on their parade.

It is not enough to simplycategorize those surrounding and involved in an initiative as friends, enemies, or frienemies. Leaders must determine an appropriate strategy for each group. For  frienemies, step one is to objectively assess the downside risk to ignoring them in hopes that they either go away or cave in to the positive influence of the “friends.” This is not a time to get caught up in ego and insecurity. A leader does not have to be liked or supported by everyone all the time in order to be effective. Driven by a need for approval, pursuing a turn-around campaign to win the heart and mind of a frienemy could be a fruitless waste of energy.

However, given the objectives you are trying to achieve, if an honest assessment of the situation leads to the conclusion that the frienemy is a big enough risk to warrant an investment of time and attention, there are ways to press a fine wine out of sour grapes.

The frienemy to friend undertaking begins with a mile long walk in the other person’s shoes. Think about what keeps this person up at night; this gives you a better understanding of their motivation. Then, consider how they benefit from their agenda. Why are they not bought-in to the initiative? What do they stand to gain if your objectives are not met?

Now, comes the hard part. Armed with new-found insight into the mind of the frienemy, you have to find an area around which to grant this person your trust. Influential leaders know that they must trust in order to be trusted. Ralph Waldo Emerson eloquently stated, “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” Easy enough to accomplish with friends. Painful at best with frienemies; but necessary nonetheless. Ralph and I are not suggesting that you share your garage door code with this person. Start with small steps that move you closer to common ground and mutual respect.

Consider ways you can leverage this person’s strengths while also assuaging their concerns. As Booker T. Washington said, “Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.”

If you have other strategies for handling frienemies or a frienemy to friend success story, please share in the comments section!

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3 Comments

Filed under Change, Frienemy, How To, Influence, Leadership

3 responses to “How to Handle Frienemies

  1. nicoledefalco

    Caution is wise. But, with frienemies, if you it’s worth it for your objectives, finding common ground is a better strategy than alienation.

  2. Hi Nicole,

    When I first read the title of your post, I have expected a sort of a guide on how to deal with such people. I think the information provided is good, but it doesn’t help those who are looking to find a way for dealing with frienemies.

    I guess treating them as enemies is the best solution – they are snakes anyway…