The Bitch at Work: How to Out-Smart the Mean Girls in the Office

The bitch at work: How to out-smart the mean girls in the office

How to handle bitchiness at work

Before 2004, girls who employed female aggression (nasty comments, deceit, excluding people from events, spreading rumors, stealing boyfriends, etc) to manipulate other girls, were known as bullies. Then along came Tina Fey’s peerless, fictional, but oh-so-true exposure of how the all-powerful high-school girl clique interact, operate and quite simply, rule their school. Henceforth, the renowned queen and their wannabes have become known as “Mean Girls”.

“I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me…but I can’t help that I’m so popular.”

This quote from the movie’s all-star vixen Gretchen, reminds us that girls like Gretchen are generally popular for one of two reasons – regular people are either afraid of them or want to be them (or at least be seen with them). This is the fuel for the mean girl burn. Recently Harvard Business Review published an article titled “How to Stop “Mean Girls” in the Workplace,” which focused on the rise of the female office bully.

how to avoid bitchiness at work

Most prevalent, it seems the cattiest of colleagues are bringing their school-yard tactics out to play in the office. These bullies have honed their behaviour to be subtly, agile enough to go unnoticed by the most astute managerial eyes. Cheryl Dellasega, in her book Mean Girls Grown Up, terms this verbal violence “relational aggression” defined as “the use of relationships to hurt each other.” To place in greater context, female “relational aggression” includes rumor mongering, sabotage, exclusion, and public ridicule, all of which are executed with precise calculation in order to inflict havoc on the lives of their targets.

At the other end of the spectrum, Kate White, former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine (for 14 years), advocates that we should endeavour to assimilate the woman you hate most at work. White relays her success on many factors, the most significant, however, was her ability to analyze her situation and strategies for success. She believes that if you are singling someone out for being a bitch, you should get in touch with why you are envious of this person. This piece of advice struck me as deserving of attention. Unlike the professional world, the school-yard is a notoriously difficult social realm, and therein lies its demarcation – it’s purely about social climbing. In the workplace, however, it’s about the career climbing and this relies on hard work. Sure, the backstabber and the sabotager might get there faster, but unless they have the professional skills to match, their rise to the top will be short-lived. Forget school-yard and think Harvard business yard – in the workplace you can out-smart the childish mean girl.

Observing the advice, which has been bestowed upon us since women entered the work force, and the Don Drappers of the world ruled the workplace – don’t be sexual office object, use your sexual prowness to get what you want. When it comes to the office vixen, it’s time to out bitch the bitch.  Here’s how:

1. Minimize exposure

The classic bitch exercises her (or his!) powers of evil to cover up their own insecurity complex and/or dangerously high competitive 
levels. At work, this creates an inherently negative person who should be avoided at all costs. Negative people pull your best from you, leaving you frustrated, angry, exhausted and emotionally depleted. When you see this person coming, you can choose to go the other way. It way seem like you are backing down but you’re not. You are making the decision to remove yourself from the line of fire. Such decisions can be fiercely empowering. If you can’t physically avoid them, at least check out emotionally. Bitches thrive on confrontation and are renowned experts in this field. This is no place for amateurs. Starve them and they will prey elsewhere. Now, they think you’re the bitch.

2. Stop thinking and talking about them

The more you dwell on a subject, the more you intensify your involvement. If you would like to see less of the bitch in your life, don’t spend your time talking about how you dislike them, because you are only enlarging them in your sphere of operation. Don’t forget this is the pried object of every well trained bitch – to put you in your place and keep you there. Surprise them by showing your competencies to another project group or approaching a higher rank colleagues. Once you begin to focus on something positive, the negative influence will become less overwhelming and they’ll start thinking you’re the bitch.

3. Analyze your actions

So often, we continually give our power away to the bitch because she is louder, prouder and shows authority. Are they stealing your work and showcasing it as their own? Stop giving them your work. Now, who’s the bitch?

4. Play them at their own game, but play harder

Why is this person a bitch? Are they doing something directly to you or playing a game that directly affects you? For example, they brown-nose your boss, your boss loves it and this annoys you. Look at the bigger picture here, maybe this is because you are jealous of what they are doing. Instead of fighting them on it or shying away from the opportunity, play them at their own game…and do it better. Bosses are there to be stroked. Start brown-nosing and watch the tables turn. You’ll win appreciation from your boss and the former bitch will be left confused and angry. That makes you the new….bitch!

5. Think positively for yourself

Some people seem to have nothing better to do than to loudly and publicly pass unwarranted judgements on others without invitation. Ignore these people. This will baffle and annoy them and instead empower yourself. Too frequently we define ourselves by other’s opinions of us. As a result we act out of those impressions. Only you have the power to choose how you feel. If you are having a bad day, it’s nobody’s fault but your own. Consequently, since you have the choice of feeling good or bad, why not choose the mental state that is more beneficial and a lot more fun?

There is a pattern in these 5 tactics, I am not advising you to embody the conniving or collusive mean girl. Quite the contrary. I am reminding you to empower yourself by looking at the situation, removing yourself from it and then turning it on it’s head. Don’t stoop to their level, but raise the bar by doing it differently.

It’s important to note that there’s a distinction between being a ‘mean girl’ and someone stopping you from doing your job correctly. 

What’s your worst experiences of an office bitch? Have you seen Mean Girl rise from the school-yard to the boardroom?