Ask The Bunch: What To Do When Friendship With Colleagues Goes Awry

We've all been warned not to mix business with friendship, but that hasn't always stopped us from trying. What should we do when lines get crossed and things get sticky?
Publish date:


Welcome back to our collaboration with our friends at BUNCH Magazine! As always, they're sharing some of their infinite wisdom by answering pressing questions about career aspirations, transitions and callings. We welcome their knowledge on the creative, professional and entrepreneur space, and think you will love their insights as well.

Dear Bunch:

I have a career conundrum that I think is relatable to both the freelance world and more permanent set-ups. A dear friend whom I have worked both for and with in the past few years has recently, well, stepped on my toes.

I took on a job and needed an extra hand, so I brought her in to help out. The project went beautifully, and everyone was thrilled – the client, myself, my friend. We all agreed it would be great to collaborate again in the future and hoped we could make it happen sooner rather than later.

Several months have passed, and I just found out that she has been hired for a role I would normally fill with the aforementioned client. The client communicated that they would love for me to be involved, but the project is proceeding with no mention from my friend (as it is ultimately her call). The rational part of me realizes this happens, and people (even those we're close to) poach opportunities and connections all the time. But honestly, part of me is really hurt, since I would never do something of this nature to a colleague, much less a friend.

With all that said, I guess this is my question: is it possible to be successful when you take others into consideration and strive to create a collaborative community, or is the key to getting ahead only looking out for oneself? I hate to think that it truly is a "dog eat dog" world and would love your insights! 


Dear Disheartened,

We always hear that working with friends can be tough, but we all tend to think it could never happen to us. The gravitational pull towards mixing business with friendship is hard to resist. When you've got, love, trust, talent and lots of giggles between the two of you, it's hard not to consider going into business with a buddy. But what do you do when it all goes south? I've been there and it ain't pretty. But let's focus on what you can do:

Talk it out.

Have you spoken to your friend about it? Right now, you're hurt and confused about her motivation and intention. There could be several reasons why the client chose her instead of you – her service price could be lower, her style could be more in line with their vision for the next project, so many reasons other than her stealing your client. The only way to find out is to ask questions before writing her off as a backstabber. Now, if she indeed has poached your client and betrayed your trust as a friend and colleague, then by all means, dump her as a friend!

Protect yourself.

Business is business and personal is personal, even when mixing the two. Sure, it can be uncomfortable to start talking contracts with friends, but what's even more uncomfortable is ending a friendship because you were afraid to be professional. Having a friend swoop down on a client is hard to predict, but making sure that you have these types of provisions in a contract going forward can save lots of heartache. Is it a "dog eat dog" world? My answer is to expect the best and prepare for the worst. You can maintain your optimism and trust of the world while also safeguarding against disaster by having contracts with friends and conversations before starting the work.

Put yourself first. 

Whenever I've spoken to people who have had bad experiences working with friends, they always come to the same conclusion: they didn't trust themselves to do the work in the first place. Our friends are our safety nets, and as I mentioned before, it's easy to want to surround ourselves with them. Many people partner with friends and bring them onto projects for so many reasons – it's easy! It's fun! We want to share the success with our best buds! – but more often than not, we do it because we're scared to go at it alone. Regardless of the reason, know that putting yourself and your success first is not an act of selfishness, it's an act of self-care.

Hope that helps and let us know how it goes!

Lizzy Okoro, Publisher + Editor-in-Chief, BUNCH Magazine

p.s. On the hunt for a new job? Here's how to land one.