You can pick your friends, you can pick your job. But you can’t pick your colleagues any more than you can the next assignment to come down from upper management. It’s no surprise, then, that not every colleague is a good one. A recent study cosponsored by TODAY.com and SELF.com revealed that 84% of women have a friend who is “toxic” in their lives—and many of them are found on the job.
And when workplace friendships go sour, job performance can suffer. One in four people in the survey said that ending a workplace friendship at work left them in a strained “working” relationship as well.
“There’s a difference between working with friends and making friends with the people you work with,” says TODAY’s senior editor Julia Sommerfeld on workplace friendships. “Most people don’t get the choice, so you just have to make the best of it.”
The best way to avoid a toxic workplace friendship that could potentially derail your career? Learn to identify the tell-tale signs of the nine most poisonous personality types—and be sure to keep your (at least emotional) distance.
The Big Mouth
Twenty-seven percent of us have had a friend who blabbed our secrets, and at work one slip can be the difference between respect and embarrassment—especially when it comes to the goings-on after the latest company happy hour. A too-talkative cubicle mate can be worse than a public Facebook wall. Keep your personal details and at-work secrets close when you work with an overly social butterfly.
The Bad Influence
The bad influencer is probably your most fun work friend, which could make her the most insidious. The happy hour organizing, long lunch taking, “one-more-cocktail” having good time pal. Problem is, those bad habits have rubbed off in 23% of survey respondents. So enjoy her company, but be wary of her leaving-early-coming-late attitude. And never stay till last call.
The betrayer will sell you out to the first questioning supervisor who comes your way. Thirty-five percent of survey respondents said that they’ve been thrown under the bus by a friend, and at workplace this toxic pal is most easily spotted as the type who never takes the blame for her own mistakes. You don’t want to be her next scapegoat, do you? Be warned.
The Chronic Downer
“A work buddy who is a chronic downer may actually be the most hazardous to your career—and your mental health,” says Sommerfeld of the 59% of survey respondents who say they know the type. Attitude can be contagious. Having a downer of a friend can take you down a path of negativity and the next thing you know, “you and your friend are having gripe-fests that drain your time and energy.” Worse, management could get wind of your bitch sessions and your reputation could suffer. Make a conscious effort to abstain from complaining with colleagues and workplace friends. If your friendship with this Negative Nancy fizzles once you stop feeding the flames, better a lost friendship that a lost job.
Fifty-five percent of us have a high-horsed pal who is wont to judge our actions. But surprisingly, Sommerfeld says, very few survey respondents placed these critical pals in the workplace. “The judgmental friend phenomenon doesn’t seem to be what really raises hackles at work as much as personality,” she says.
You know the flake—your colleague who always needs to be rescued or calls in sick on the day of a big meeting without so much as sending you an email heads-up. “The flake can be a real time suck and leave you feeling bitter and taken advantage of,” says Sommerfeld. Avoid partnering with this hazardous homie at all costs. Or at the very least, enforce strict daily deadlines so you’re never left in the lurch. Better to be the productivity police than to be left unprepared on the morning of the biggest meeting of your career.
The most commonly cited toxic friend, narcissists are all about themselves. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents have endured an egomaniacal pal, but for the wary worker, they’re easily spotted—and managed. “If you have a narcissistic friend,” says Sommerfeld, “enjoy her elaborate stories and know she’s probably not going to ask how you’re doing in return. Just don’t give her the chance to steal the credit for something [you’ve accomplished] at the office.”
The rival is a friend who’s way too competitive, which seems like the biggest workplace threat, but Sommerfeld stresses that there’s a simple “straightforwardness” to a super-competitive pal. “When you’re vying for the same promotion, you know where you stand. You probably aren’t going to leave yourself open with such a friend, especially at work.”
Forty-five percent of survey respondents have friends that serve up compliments with a side-dish of digging, and at work, this can be especially pervasive. “This is the friend who acts like he or she is on your side,” Sommerfeld warns, “but subverts you with backhanded compliments, especially in front of a boss or colleague.” As in: “You did a great job with that RFP, Kaitlyn, it was almost good enough that I’d want to take credit for it myself!”