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Dealing with Jealous Colleagues (or Friends)

Andrew Matthews cartoon depicting jealousy.
Credit: Andrew Matthews

Identifying Jealous Peers

Jealous is being “hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage”. Imagine observing an individual achieving a personal milestone or success in their lives. And then watching the reaction of others to that success. Generally, one of two outcomes occurs with friends or colleagues:

  • Support and acknowledgement
  • Ignoring the event

Imagine that James has just been appointed to lead an important initiative to build a cutting-edge carbon-neutral headquarters. James is part of a workplace services team within a global multinational, responsible for managing all facilities-related activities. So this appointment is a real coup as James has only been with the company for 2-years. His appointment reflects management’s trust in his ability and attitude. The reaction within the workplace services team is mixed. Some of James’ peers congratulate him and offer support if he needs it. Whereas Benjamin and Ryan don’t say a word to him. 

James struggles to understand the inconsistency and asks you for help in managing through it. How might you guide him?

Understanding reactions in others

It helps to start from a place of being open. This means tucking away preconceived ideas on a shelf in the cupboard. We don’t want to be anchored with them. It is easy to jump to conclusions about why someone else does or doesn’t do something. It is much harder to remain impartial and seek to understand.

We will get into specific techniques to manage oneself in these situations a little later on. Let’s first identify some common tell-tale signs that a person is envious or jealous:

  • Selective praise and acknowledgment 
  • Exaggerated or insincere praise
  • An inexpressive response in the face of public praise for the individual
  • Conversations clam up when certain individuals appear
  • Active sabotaging occurs
  • Disparaging comments fly freely
  • Visible active efforts to isolate an individual 

The natural question of why Benjamin and Ryan react as they do is quintessential in addressing their underlying mindset. It also serves as a foundation to guide James through it and, how to best behave at the moment. 

Being jealous often emerges from a place of fear or threat. Using our example, it could be as simple as Benjamin felt he deserved the appointment. He now worries about how he is perceived by management after being passed over for the role.  It could also be as simple as Ryan feels loyal to Benjamin and wants to support his friend. So, he stands against James.

We work within a complex social fabric with shades of grey. It is important to understand these dynamics and tread carefully.

Dealing with jealousy within a team

There are many ways to constructively deal with this situation. It starts with being professional at all times. 

Best practices to rise above jealousy. Copyright: David Wray 2021

Using these techniques in practice

Armed with these techniques, what could you advise James to do? 

You could counsel him to ignore it and simply stay focused on doing a good job. This will achieve two things, namely: demonstrate professionalism and prevent leaping to incorrect conclusions about other people.  

James might consider, over time, offering contributory roles to Benjamin and Ryan. Getting them involved may lead to them shining in a project helping management see them in a new light. This may in turn open future opportunities for them and, as a by-product, showcase James as an effective team leader in managing delicate issues. I say delicate because, in my coaching experience, toxic behaviour is evident.

A few carefully and positively chosen steps coupled with some patience to see it through can effectively turn a situation around. While being jealous may be a common human emotion, leaving other people feeling devalued because of jealousy is not.

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views, tips, and tricks on how you successfully deal with workplace jealousy or envy.

Give it a try!

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