No room for games: How to deal with competitive friendship at work

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No room for games: How to deal with competitive friendship at work
6 min read

In Kool Kanya’s theme of the month ﹘ Feminist In Progress ﹘ we decode the nitty-gritties of practising feminism laden with imperfections.

Let me share a personal anecdote.

B and I started out in an organisation at the same time. Though our roles were different, we worked under the same manager. Our work revolved around content, and we had to collaborate and work together often. 

Both B and I were driven, ambitious, and creative. With our distinct skill sets, both of us brought interesting perspectives to the table. Our shared interests also made us friends right from the start. But every so often, there were clear clashes between us, and we wouldn’t know when to put our professional selves aside and bring out our personal selves.

Sometimes, our disagreements would bleed into our personal lives. It was difficult to put aside our working styles, thoughts, and opinions and not let it affect our rapport as friends. Over time, however, we developed an unspoken understanding of when we needed to draw a line, and it worked.

Why is competition in female friendships considered natural?

According to popular narrative, two strong, ambitious women cannot possibly get along. 

Competition in female friendships is attributed to the assumption that women are ‘biologically designed’ to compete for the attention of men, they are more likely to put each other down to get to the top. So, whether it’s at work or at home, women are ‘naturally compelled’ to compete with each other, having absolutely no control over their actions.

This sexist notion goes far and wide in people’s conscience, which is why women in competing leadership positions are almost always treading carefully. This is also why it’s especially important for women to collaborate successfully and get rid of any signs of ‘female’ competition.

5 steps to deal with competitive friendship at work

A successful work friendship is beneficial for your personal and professional growth, and there’s nothing better than having your work BFF support you through small wins and bad days. But a part of growing professionally means accepting your differences. Here’s how you can deal with competition in female friendships at work without it affecting you and your BFF..

1. Establish boundaries

This goes without saying. Knowing when to be friends and when to be working professionals should be a conscious decision. You and your work BFF can chalk out time during your work hours where you discuss work-related woes as friends, but ensure that you don’t discuss projects you’re working on together. Keep a separate chunk of time for that, and talk about it objectively when you must.

If you’re anticipating clashes in a project, it’s best to talk it out before you start. Establish your roles clearly, and possibly involve a third party to have the final say in case of a disagreement. For instance, for any project involving B and me, we would first talk about what was required of both of us. Since she was in charge of the technical aspects of content, she had a say in how my article would be presented on social media. But because I was in charge of the writing, I could take a call on how I wanted to approach the subject. We were both expected to give feedback, but the final decision was left to the person in charge. 

It helps to democratise the process to avoid clashes.

2. Use the competition to improve your skills

You may love your work BFF and still feel competitive with them. This is normal! What you must do to change the narrative of competition in female friendships is take the opportunity to enhance your own skills.

A little competition at work is a good thing, and because you know just how skilled your work BFF is, learn from it. Observe how they solve problems at work and try to incorporate that approach into your working style. Take some time for an online course or workshop to help you become a better professional. You can even ask your work BFF to teach you a thing or two if it’ll help you excel.

Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of sources.

No room for games: How to deal with competitive friendship at work

3. Diversify your friend group

One of the reasons why establishing boundaries with our work BFFs is tougher is that we’re too attached to them. They’re our competition as well as our confidant, which can blur lines to the point of no return. It can also affect our relationship with them in the long run.

To prevent this from becoming a problem, diversify your friend group. Make new friends, both from your department and from others. That way, you will have more than one pair of ears for your problems, and more than one mind to exchange ideas, thoughts, and opinions.

4. Become an ally 

If you and your work BFF don’t always work together but feel super competitive with each other, try joining forces on a project. This can be a great learning opportunity for both of you, where you will learn how to understand each other’s processes and remove any signs of ‘female’ competition. This is particularly helpful if you wish to upskill in their field.

No room for games: How to deal with competitive friendship at work

5. Always be ethical in your approach

This doesn’t need to be said, but it’s important nonetheless. Regardless of your rapport with your BFF on a professional level, always remember to credit them where due. Be accountable and team-oriented, and ensure that you don’t let your personal feelings affect your output and performance. Integrity is a good quality to have, both professionally and personally.

Wherever there is passion and ambition, there is competition. With ambitious women in particular, the stakes are high because it is assumed that they cannot collaborate with other women. It’s time to put that stereotype to rest and move forward. You and your work BFF have a great thing going ﹘ turn this into a learning experience and make the most of it.

You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career Community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.

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