Every professional at every company and with every position they hold require a few necessities. Feedback on their work, the space to be autonomous, the opportunity for growth, a competitive salary … and a work bestie. Different from any other friend you might have, this type of interpersonal relationship is your safe harbor, your listening ear, your confidant, and the person who can actually understand what your office life is like since they are a few desks down from us. As career coach and author Mary Camuto explains, these dynamics help us refresh, focus and be productive at work. When they’re healthy, they foster our physical, mental and emotional energy, allowing us to perform at our highest level.
But then — quite quickly — they can turn toxic. The tricky part is not only understanding the warning signs when they rear their red flags, but also how to mitigate the situation before it jeopardizes your work or reputation.
If you’re always unhappy and negative, tread carefully
Consider the last three conversations you had with your work bestie. What were they about? Did you congratulate one another on a successful project? Or do you primarily complain about your boss and gossip about the one coworker who annoys you? Camuto says when a friendship caters to negativity only, it doesn’t elevate your energy, but rather, dampens it. This is when you should tread lightly — and be mindful of your patterns.
“If you are caught up in your best friend’s drama and negatively, your own attitude and reputation may now be impacted,” she explains. “Ask yourself if your friendship is enhancing your work life in positive ways. Ask yourself if you still have positive work relationships with your boss and colleagues.”
Though it is true we all need friends — bad ones aren’t helpful to your career or your happiness.
If you can’t trust them, move on
Much like any other friendship, your work bestie should be someone you trust through-and-through, and in all situations. Without this confidence, it makes it impossible to build a deep connection. As professor at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Wendy Osefo says, if information you shared privately becomes public knowledge, it isn’t a strong sign. Not only does it show an absence of loyalty, but it can be a clear indicator they are talking poorly when you aren’t around, too.
There are other sneaky ways to betray your confidence, too. Apart from sharing private information, if they steal your ideas and claim them as their own—you’re in trouble.
“Whether they want to get ahead before you or just don’t want to see you get ahead, anyone who pulls the rug out from under your chances for growth and advancement isn’t a friend,” mentor and business coach Christine Agro says.
If you can’t shine on your own, it’s time to create distance
Though it can be fun to be part of a twosome or feel as if you’ve met your match at the office, Agro says when someone stands in your shadow, it’s tough to shine brightly. Sometimes when a pair of friends are considered “twins,” they get lumped together, even when they are different. Especially if your so-called other half doesn’t quite have the same ambition that you do.
“If your workplace bestie is a goof-off slacker and everyone thinks you two do everything together and share the same values, if you’re planning on growing at your job, it’s time to put some distance between you two,” Agro continues. “People assign values and characteristics to us by the people we surround ourselves with.”
So how do you part ways — or finagle space — without ruffling feathers? Here, a few ideas:
Don’t be accusatory or overly emotional
First and foremost, take a breather before you lash out. When you’re prompted to sever ties because they’re frustrated you or actively upset you, don’t start the conversation until you’ve calmed down. Camuto says there is no need to bring drama into your office, but rather, remain calm and talk privately about your concerns.
“You may also be breaking up the friendship outside of work and need to explain your reasons. Assure your friend that you will not gossip about the breakup and that will you will maintain a professional and positive working relationship,” she explains. “Set the expectation that your friend will do the same. It may take time to regain trust with others. Focus on work and good interpersonal relationships with everyone.”
Perhaps you really adore your work bestie, but you find your interactions dysfunctional in the workplace setting. This situation doesn’t call for the severance of ties, but rather, creating clear boundaries.
“Clarify the aspects of your relationship that will not continue — like exclusive lunches every day; sharing complaints and gossip about people, customers, and other departments,” Camuto suggests. “But then consider what you want to continue: What about commuting together, taking breaks together? Will you keep work out of weekend social activities? Boundaries, ground rules, and honesty are required if you are to continue working in the same organization.”
Dedicate yourself to work
Career expert Joy Altimare suggests professionals ask themselves one important question: is this relationship affecting my work performance and ability to grow? If you’re nodding along in agreement, you know it is time to recenter yourself. Instead of explicitly “breaking up” — shift your priorities at work. After all, you can’t ‘ghost’ them since you’ll see them every day!
“Volunteer for more projects that will require you to spend more time with other cross-departmentally. This will help you be more engaged with others, legitimately — thus, causing a natural separation.”