Why Having A Work Frenemy Is Actually A Good Thing, According To Research

Here's how a little competition can help your life.

work frenemies smiling for camera selfie Roman Samborskyi | Shutterstock

We don't sit at an office all day together, but my coworker frenemy is a college friend who works in the same field. We text a lot and gripe about the challenges of writing, but there is usually some time in the conversation where we have some awkward misunderstanding and we then get competitive.

Someone usually gets defensive. The other tries to make a point that what they're doing is the right way to make it in writing, and the other is wrong. There usually isn't any resolution and we move on to the next subject.


Why having a work frenemy is actually a good thing, says research.

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Is this type of frenemy relationship hurting me or helping me? According to a researcher, this is actually a good thing!

Shimul Melwani, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studies frenemy relationships, however, the scientific term is "ambivalent relationships." You may assume that ambivalent means you don't care about the other person, but it actually means you have negative and positive feelings in the relationship.


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Melwani conducted two experiments with Naomi Rothman of Lehigh University. In one of them, they collected 120 undergrads and paired them off. Melawani and Rothman made sure half of them had built a friendship by asking strictly positive getting-to-know-you questions to each other.

For the other half of the students, however, the researchers wanted to create ambivalence between the partners. They started off with some getting-to-know-you questions about their hobbies and interests, and the questions soon turned competitive. Some of the questions consisted of, "What’s your GPA so far?", "Which one of you has a higher GPA?"

After that, both groups were asked how they felt about their partners, and the researchers found the manipulations had worked: The people with the more friendly questions reported positive feelings toward their partner, while those with more competitive questions reported feeling both positively and negatively toward theirs.


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They then gave all the undergrads the task of editing each other's blog posts. The blog posts were the same and written by the researchers but they told them that it was their partner's. The ones who had ambivalent relationships with their partners competitively caught more errors than the ones who had positive relationships with their partners.

This makes sense. You don't necessarily want to be buddy-buddy with all the people you work with because you will be scared to criticize them and your work suffers. A little competition means you will push each other to be better.

I guess this means that I should give my frenemy more of my writing to critique. Along with that, we should have a lot more awkward debates…yikes!


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Nicole Weaver is a senior writer for Showbiz Cheat Sheet whose work has been featured in New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, and more.