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Dealing with mean girls at work

Sometimes women at work can be downright mean. Their behaviour can leave you emotionally drained and unable to do your work effectively.

Refocus your energy
Mean woman at work

Fortunately we have some expert tips on how you can deal with those mean girls and refocus your energy on your career.

The authors of bestselling books Working for You Isn’t Working for Me and Working with You Is Killing Me, Kathi Elster and Katherine Crowley, have written a new book titled Mean Girls at Work, which focuses specifically on the competitive nature between women in the workplace and how women can learn to disengage from this behaviour and refocus their energy on moving their careers forward. They’ve interviewed more than 100 professional women and spoken to several experts in the field of female behaviour at work to provide women with the best possible advice on how to cope with these challenging co-workers.

What are the effects of mean girls at work?

Elster and Crowley explain that not only can mean girls be determined to hold other women back from advancing and jeopardize their careers, they can also cause them to become distracted each and every day. Worrying about eventual attacks and then recovering from them after the fact can be an ongoing preoccupation that drains women of emotional energy and leaves them unable to perform efficiently.

Are all mean girls the same?

Elster and Crowley explain that there are different categories of mean. At one end of the spectrum are the “meanest of the mean” — women who are cold, impenetrable and who may even try to sabotage other women. They are literally unable to see another woman’s point of view. At the other end of the spectrum are the women who “bring out your mean.” These women aren’t so much mean as they are clueless, and their constant chatter or incessant questions can frustrate you to the point of bringing out your mean side. In between you have the “doesn’t know she’s mean,” “doesn’t mean to be mean,” “passively mean” and “very mean.” But what Elster and Crowley identify as the hardest type to deal with is the “group mean.” These are groups of two or three women, one of whom seems to be the “alpha girl,” and they may whisper as you walk by or gang up on you after work.

What can be done?

Elster advises taking three steps when dealing with mean girls. First and most important, she advises to avoid counterattacking. Although it can be tempting to respond to a negative comment with one of your own, she advises to take a breath and walk away rather than allow the problem to escalate. Second, she recommends finding ways to take the attacks less personally. By focusing on the work and your professionalism, you may be able to distance yourself from a mean girl’s attacks and get back to the task at hand. And finally, she suggests looking for a way to solve the problem without getting into a personal battle. Crowley adds that it is exceptionally important you take care of yourself. Whether that’s through exercise, finding a trusted person you can confide in or learning ways to promote your accomplishments at work, look for a means of self-care that makes you happy regardless of someone else’s behaviour.

How to stay strong

There’s no doubt that dealing with tough women at work can be emotionally exhausting and upsetting. Elster affirms that this tough situation can really damage a woman’s self-esteem. Crowley emphasizes how important it is to take steps to rebuild that sense of self. Some of the ways you can do that are by finding other women who value your company, contributing your talents to a good cause or engaging in a special project you feel good about no matter what.

Learning more

If you want more detailed information on specific examples and ideas on how to cope, check out Mean Girls at Work when it’s released on Nov. 2. In the meantime, visit the authors’ company website, K2 Enterprises, for more workplace solutions.

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