GUEST AUTHOR BLOG by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster co-authors of, "Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal."
As workplace relationship experts, the idea for our newest book was born out a new reality – women comprising almost 50% of the workforce.
This growing demographic shift requires a new skill set.
Women now need concrete tools for navigating their professional relationships with other women. Now, more than ever, a young professional female is likely to report to a woman, work beside women, and manage women.
Most woman-to-woman relationships at work are pleasurable. Women are designed to bond with each other – to tend and befriend as a means of survival. But sometimes, the bonding goes awry. One woman may feel competitive with another woman and behave in a way that seems "mean" to her colleague.
Mean Girls at Work offers a 5-step process for handling any situation in which a woman finds herself locked in a power struggle with another woman at work. We call our process "Don't Go There" because the most important thing that a woman must resist doing to another woman is to counter-attack.
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Here is the "Don't Go There Process"
1) What she does – we describe what the "mean girl" does – how she attacks you. This could include a coworker cutting you out of an important email chain, humiliating you in front of your colleagues, ignoring your input at a meeting, or failing to give you important information.
2) How you feel – because most women are communicators and need to acknowledge their emotions, we outline the natural, emotional reactions a woman would have in response to the mean girl's behavior. She might feel, angry, embarassed, humiliated, envious or even sad.
3) Don't Go There - This is probably the most difficult step because it's so tempting to counter-attack when we feel attacked by another woman. It can happen in one second. For example, a coworker might ignore you when you ask her a question and your impulse might be to react by saying something snarky like, " Well I guess I'm not important!" Then you storm off in a huff. The coworker may have been preoccupied or perhaps she did not hear you. But guess what? Now you are in a fight with her. To avoid this kind of power struggle we say – Don't Go There!!
4) Go Here –This is where we give the reader concrete actions to take that can transform a workplace interaction from personal to professional. For example, if you hear a woman gossiping about you, it's best to first take some time to cool off so that you don't confront her in the heat of the moment. Next, you should approach her in private and say, " I overheard you talking about me yesterday. In the future, if you have a problem with my behavior I'd prefer that you communicate it directly to me."
5) Going Forward – Here is where we give you some insight into the makeup of the offending woman (or mean girl), along with a long-term strategy. For example, if you are dealing with a woman who puts you down publicly, we'd say that going forward you can consider her need to shoot you down as a compliment of sorts. You threaten her, which means that she sees you as someone with talent and promise. At the same time, the best way to keep your career moving forward is to defuse her jealousy by focusing on her accomplishments, and letting her know how much you admire her.
Our "Don't Go There" process may at times feel like we are letting the offending woman off the hook. But as the old saying goes, you don't want to fight fire with fire. Our goal is to help women defuse and disengage from power struggles with other women. We believe that the ability to successfully navigate personal attacks by taking the high road is the best way for women to support each other's success while building stronger professional alliances.
About the authors of "Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal," Katherine Crowley is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist, and Kathi Elster is a management consultant and executive coach. They run K Squared Enterprises, a training firm that helps clients manage difficult situations in the workplace.