4 signs you have a workplace nemesis — and how to deal with it

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Michael Scott’s workplace nemesis is Toby Flenderson in “The Office.”
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aronfl/Youtube

In “The Office,” many awkward moments arise due to Michael Scott’s intense hatred of mild-mannered HR representative Toby Flenderson.

While most of us would never resort to Michael Scott-level shenanigans, many people can relate to having a workplace nemesis.

“Nemesis” may sound like an intense word – but a nemesis doesn’t have to be an over-the-top, evil supervillain. It can simply refer to a longtime rival.

Jason Hanold, the founder of executive and board search firm Hanold Associates, told Business Insider that such contentious work relationships typically stem from jealousy.

“Most sophisticated people in a workplace setting can identify when one is jealous of another,” Hanold says. “Jealousy is the root cause of most workplace grudges and bad behaviors. Jealousy of relationships with peers, bosses, their teams, as well as jealousy of performance, promotions, or even offices or work area locations. Many of us are surrounded by great people, and unfortunately, by a petty person or two.”

If you have a work nemesis, you probably already know. If you’re not sure, here are some signs that you’ve got an enemy in the office, along with a few tips on dealing with the situation.


Your suspected nemesis plays it hot and cold

One minute, you’re besties with this coworker. She’s bombarding you with social media friend requests and coffee invites. The next thing you know, she’s ignoring you in the break room and acting like you’re invisible.

Or maybe he’s the guy who gives you dirty looks across the office, only to lob an underhanded compliment your way when the manager is looking.

What gives?

Your nemesis might be trying to scope you out. Alternatively, he or she might not want the boss to know about your gripe.


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The Office US/Youtube

Tip: Clear the air

There’s a chance that your negative relationship with your workplace nemesis actually developed through a simple misunderstanding – a perceived slight or mix-up that led to mutual hostility.

If you think that might be the case, there’s only one surefire way of putting it behind you.

“A civil confrontation often resolves a growing issue,” Hanold says. “Clearing the air or even calling attention to another’s bad behavior is often enough to turn their petty attention to another person. Often these folks enjoy the state of victimhood, and become experts at finding slights, faults, and injustice against themselves and will go find another, less-vocal nemesis.”

So, if someone’s acting rude, do some introspection. Sitting down with your nemesis and explaining that you didn’t have any sinister motives when you accidentally stole his pen six months ago may be the key to reducing the hostility.


They try to undermine you

A subtle nemesis will set you up for failure at every turn. Whether he’s blatantly stealing credit for your big idea, or she’s “accidentally” leaving you off important emails, your workplace enemy will take steps to ensure you don’t succeed.


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The Office US/Youtube

Tip: Find allies

It’s a good idea to open up to others when you’re dealing with a hostile coworker.

“A fundamental human condition is that we can’t fully trust those who we do not know,” Hanold says. “If a nemesis is bad mouthing you or attempting to spread untrue gossip, people who know and trust you will be at your defense.”

And if the situation becomes totally toxic, it’s a good idea to alert a trusted manager.


They are hyper-competitive

Being competitive isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But your nemesis likely takes it too far and seems to be preoccupied with one-upping you in particular.

Instead of doing good, honest work in order to rise to the head of the pack, this person is working hard to make him or herself look good, usually at your expense.


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The Office US/Youtube

Tip: Focus on yourself

It can be hard to turn the other cheek when you’re dealing with a hyper-competitive nemesis. However, it’s a good idea to just focus on your own work. Odds are, they’ll trip themselves up in their narrow-minded quest to beat you at all costs.


They are the boss’s favorite

You put your head down and work hard, but your boss only has praise for one of your colleagues. It’s an infuriating situation. It also plays into the old cliché: No one likes a teacher’s pet.


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The Office US

Tip: Move on

In this case, it’s more the fault of the manager than your nemesis. By playing favorites, your boss may be setting their favorite up for widespread loathing. In this case, instead of focusing on your nemesis, it’s more productive to think about whether your boss’s conduct is fair or just harmful to office morale.

In most cases, when dealing with an office nemesis, it’s probably a good idea to be the bigger person and just move on, Hanold says.

“Prioritize whose opinion matters most to you, professionally and personally, and it will properly weight how much one should care about their nemesis’ opinions.”