I was having dinner with two work friends the other evening and the talk turned to women and friendships. One of my friends shared how she had recently joined a new group and certain women were making it abundantly clear that she was not accepted. She had “heard” that they resented her material possessions— her house, her car etc. Of course, this was conveyed in a passive-aggressive manner. Never the less, she had received the very clear message that she was not like them. She was different and that was not a good thing. She felt understandably angry about not being accepted, but beneath the anger was hurt.
The conversation turned to why women take part in this negative behavior. You know, the junior high and high school antics that are forever etched in our memory. Well, at least they are in mine. I remember clearly being iced out of my clique in 8th grade by a group of mean girls. The hurt was devastating at that age and it truly felt as if I wouldn’t survive this experience.
The pain is not any less intense when you encounter the same behavior as an adult. In the 2005 book, “Mean Girls Grown Up”, women studies and relational aggression author Cheryl Dellasega explored what happened to those mean girls when they grew up. Will it shock you if I tell you that the author concluded that a significant number of them continue to act aggressively (or passive-aggressively) in their personal and professional life? The power games and targeted, attacking behavior are a part of their regular interactions.
So what can you do when you encounter this type of behavior?
1. As difficult as it is, don’t get caught up in this toxic encounter. Step outside the experience and take an objective look at the situation. Sometimes you can get so tied up in your own hurt and anger, you can fail to see how this is less about your insecurities and more about someone else’s. This is typical behavior for a woman that feels threatened. Understand and accept that you probably have nothing to do with her reaction. If you can do a self-check and agree that you have been nothing but kind and respectful to this individual, then try your best to move on.
2. Focus on the friendships that nourish and feed you. It’s human behavior to focus on what we can’t have and the negatives in our life. However, force yourself to focus on the good and the quality friendships that do exist. Invest your time in the relationships that are based on non-judgmental acceptance. These friendships are proof that you are more than capable of lasting, loving relationships.
3. If you’re feeling strong and your emotions are in check, attempt to have a healthy discussion with the individual. State the facts, convey how the situation made you feel, and say what you would like to see happen. To be effective, you must approach this devoid of all emotion, name-calling, and finger pointing. Don’t expect miracles in this approach— chances are good that she’ll refuse to take any responsibility. However, expressing your feelings in a healthy manner could help YOU feel some power in the situation and more at peace.
It’s difficult enough for women to succeed with the pressures in today’s workplace. All women need to support one another and REFUSE to turn a blind eye to mean girl behavior in the workplace and beyond.
I’m calling an all out war— who’s with me?