Competing with a Friend for a Promotion: Can This Relationship Survive?

Other scholars have describedthese expectationsas relational images that develop early in life and are carried from one relationship to another, sometimes changing with new experiences. We don’t show up in the workplace as a blank slate. We carry with us all of the things we have learned, including our friendship rules and expectations. Men have friendship rules too, but because of differences in our gender socialization, theirs are not the same as ours. Women I talk with often marvel at the way men can disagree or compete at work and then go out for a beer together as though nothing happened, while women do not get over similar experiences with other women for a long time—if ever. What friendship rules could be making it harder for women to compete with a woman friend for a new job or promotion? My research validated the work of other scholars who describe a core of very common friendship rules. Not everyone has the same rules, and there will be variations for cultural differences. Below are the most commonly reported friendship rules:

  • Maintain unswerving loyalty.
  • Demonstrate trustworthiness.
  • Keep confidences.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Share gossip and air problems.
  • Provide self-disclosure.
  • Practice equality and acceptance, and refrain from disapproval.
  • Avoid discussion of the friendship rules.
Could it be that it feels disloyal to compete with a woman friend for a job? Or could it be hard to face the possibility that you will no longer be equals after one of you gets the promotion? One thing is certain: if it is taboo to discuss friendship rules, our friendships will be at high risk for damage in competitive professional situations. Here are some tips for how you can both preserve relationships and compete with other women in the workplace. First, have a friendship-rules conversation. Include as many of these points as you can with your friend:
  1. Confirm that the friendship is important to you and you don’t want it to be damaged because you are both applying for the same job.
  2. Propose a friendship rule that you wish each other the best in pursuing the job.
  3. Suggest a friendship rule that whoever gets the job will have the full support of the other to be successful.
  4. Acknowledge to each other that applying for the position is not personal, it’s professional.
Men compete with each other for jobs all the time and usually don’t take it personally. We can do this, too, women, if we are intentional and supportive in our relationships with each other. Let us know what has worked for you in competitive situations with a friend.]]>

2 thoughts on “Competing with a Friend for a Promotion: Can This Relationship Survive?”

  1. Im in a similar situation. one of my close coworker informed me about an accounting position I Really want but after a couple days of her nit really seeing me make a move, she decided to apply and my manager approched me and asked wht in earth I hadnt applied yet and i’d be great for the position. Now I feel like if I do apply and get the job, she may think I just applied to snatch the position from her and she’ll feel like I stole a great opportunity from her. 🙁

    • Hi, Linett:
      I know this must be an uncomfortable situation. I strongly encourage you to talk with her about your discomfort and the importance of her friendship. I am sure you can both compete for this job and still be friends — if you talk about it!
      Best wishes,


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