How to handle the former workplace enemy, again

Having an enemy in the workplace can make things awkward for the entire office.

Story highlights

  • Former workplace enemies can show up at your new job
  • You can either mend the relationship or make the best of an awkward situation
  • It's your chance to get beyond any past issues you've had and commit to starting fresh
One day you come into work merrily sipping your coffee, mentally preparing to make the best of the day ahead of you. You'd heard rumors that a new person is starting, and you're excited about a new addition to your team. It means your workload will be lessened, and you'll be able to focus on accomplishing more important tasks. But when your boss stops by to introduce you to your new counterpart, your stomach drops.
As if ripped from the pages of a soap opera script, you're standing face-to-face with a workplace arch nemesis from a previous job. Two thoughts cross your mind: "Oh @@##" and, "OK, try to make the best of this awkward situation."
The likelihood of this happening may be slim, but it's not impossible. It's common to leave a job to escape a bad work environment or mean-spirited co-workers. But what do you do if, when you left, you made your not-so-loving feelings clear to your unfriendly co-workers, only to face them once again in your new job?
"Eat crow," as they say.
As much as you can sit at your desk and claim that work is work, and you're not there to make friends, it's not that easy. You'll have to either mend the relationship or put on your game face and make the best of an awkward situation.
Kaley Warner Klemp and Jim Warner, authors of "The Drama-Free Office," conducted research with more than 3,500 CEOs and their executive teams worldwide on this workplace quagmire.
"You might start this new relationship by offering the benefit of the doubt: Perhaps both of you have grown in your maturity since you last worked together and can shift to have a productive, collaborative relationship this time," Klemp says. "The best place to start is by ensuring that you stay out of drama: Take responsibility, practice creativity and collaboration, empower others and enforce your own boundaries. Hopefully this other person will follow your lead."
Great advice. This is one moment in your career when you have to make the conscious choice to take the high road. It's your chance to get beyond any past issues you've had with this person and commit to starting fresh. But what if the other person wants to continue the war?
"Strive to remain understanding and compassionate toward your drama-prone 'frenemy' without feeling obligated to rescue them," Klemp says.
Do you have workplace drama? Take one of Klemp and Warner's assessments for tips on how to resolve issues in the workplace.