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How To Deal With A Toxic Female Co-Worker (And Stop Mean Girl Behaviour) – Sonia McDonald

Last week I delivered a free Women in Leadership Masterclass to 200 women across the globe and asked the question – what is some of your biggest challenges? I was shocked (not surprised) about the responses – mainly women not supporting other women! I am so p*ssed of that I still hear these stories. Did you know my daughter was bullied at school by other girls and this lead to her mental health struggles and many other debilitating challenges – it nearly destroyed her. It didn’t. She came out stronger than ever. However, we must stop this.

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Madeleine K. Albright (Keynote speech at Celebrating Inspiration luncheon with the WNBA’s All-Decade Team, 2006)”

It’s no surprise that women can be catty and mean to one another in the workplace. It’s a sad reality, but it happens more often than we’d like to admit – even in some of the best organisations with great positive workplace cultures.

If you’re experiencing workplace toxicity from another woman, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Most of us have been there at one point or another. I know I certainly have.

Women are often the target of workplace toxicity and incivility. But, in reality, most people assume that it comes from men. So, when another woman is mean to you, it is not always easy to know what to do.

According to a study by Allison Gabriel from the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, it was found that “women reported higher levels of incivility from other women than their male counterparts.”

Women were actually found to experience between 5% to 9% more incivility from other women than men. Known as ‘Queen Bee Syndrome,” discrimination and rude behaviour increases as women rise in seniority at work.

So, what can you do if another woman pulls you down?

You may feel like you’re walking on eggshells, trying not to anger her further. Or, you may want to stand up for yourself and put her in her place, even if it means risking getting fired.

In this blog post, I’ll discuss different types of mean and rude behaviour you may experience from a female co-worker and some solutions you can implement to take action and deal with the situation effectively. So, let’s get into it.

Why Do Women Not Want To Advocate For Each Other?

Female co-workers are often hesitant to advocate for each other in the workplace – and themselves.

A recent report from Indeed and Luminary revealed that 73% of women believe that female workers are viewed more negatively by their employers if they self-advocate compared to their male counterparts.

Often women don’t want to be seen as confrontational or assertive, so they may not stick up for themselves when another woman is being mean and pulling them down. Unfortunately, this can lead to a negative feedback loop where the other woman continues to mistreat you without any fear of consequences.

It is also possible that some women may feel like there is a power struggle playing out with their female co-workers. Some women are also jealous of their female co-workers after they receive a promotion instead of celebrating their success in smashing through the glass ceiling.

When these situations arise, it’s important to know how to handle them confidently and professionally.


What Does Workplace Bullying Look Like For Women?

Workplace bullying can often look different for women than it does for men.

The following forms of aggression can damage your career and self-esteem if left unchecked. Usually, you can address the subsequent toxic behaviour yourself when it occurs before it continues to escalate.

Types Of Toxic Workplace Behaviour

Here are the most common types of rude and toxic workplace behaviour you may experience from other women:

●     Deliberately excluding another woman from important conversations or meetings

●     Gossiping and spreading rumours in the workplace to try to encourage problems with other female co-workers

●     Hostile, uncalled-for criticism of other women in the workplace

●     Patronising, condescending behaviour towards female colleagues

●     Undermining and dismissing female colleague’s ideas and opinions

●     Making demeaning or sexist comments to or about another woman.

●     Disrupting the workplace with offensive jokes or loud and inappropriate conversations

●     Displaying bad manners in formal and informal workplace settings – such as in meetings or in the lunchroom

●     Deliberately not acknowledging or greeting certain female co-workers

●     Using offensive language, gestures, or body language

●     Makes a co-worker uncomfortable by invading their personal space, such as standing over them while they are on a phone call or sending an email

●     Not replenishing or restocking shared supplies such as stationary, milk, or a coffee maker

●     Taking credit for co-worker’s ideas, work, and success in emails, meetings, and general conversations

●     Constantly interrupting women who are having a casual or private conversation

●     Providing uncalled-for negative feedback related to female co-workers and their work performance

Now that we’ve seen some classic moves from the Mean Girls 101 playbook, let’s look at how you can deal with any mean or uncivil women in your organisation.


10 Ways How To Handle A Mean Girl In The Workplace

Here are ten things to do when another woman pulls you down at work:

1.  Don’t Take It Personally

This is, of course, easier said than done! It can be tough not to take someone’s mean or unprofessional behaviour personally. But try to remind yourself that it’s not about you.

Everyone has bad days, and sometimes people lash out at others without meaning to. People are also experiencing declining mental health due to dealing with Covid for the past few years.

According to Beyond Blue’s State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia, 1 in 5 employees has taken some time off work in the past 12 months due to feeling mentally unwell. Also, only 5 in 10 Australians believe their workplace is mentally healthy. Depression and anxiety are also increasing, with 16.8% of people having a 12-month anxiety problem.

Try your best to be understanding of this, and don’t let it get you down – stay strong! Also, try putting yourself in the other woman’s shoes to understand why they may act a particular way.

Does she have stress due to tight deadlines? Is she burnt out and overworked? Are there problems at home? Another woman being mean to you isn’t always necessarily related directly to you, something you have done or how you have behaved.

So the first step should be to look at what are the underlying causes that may be causing this behaviour. While it isn’t an excuse for the other woman’s behaviour, remember that she may have issues or struggles that she is dealing with – this isn’t about you!

2.  Talk It Out: Address The Behaviour Directly In Private

If possible, try talking to the mean woman directly about her behaviour and how it makes you feel.

Approach the mean female co-worker in private when she is alone, and make your feelings known to her. Keep calm, and don’t let your emotions get out of control. 

Be firm but polite in your approach if you choose this option, and hold your ground no matter what. Mention specific examples of why her actions or words hurt you or are inappropriate.

Instead of saying “You,” such as “You said…,” or “You did…” say “I” statements such as “I feel….”

This will prevent the situation from escalating and feeling like you are attacking your co-worker. Instead, tell her how you feel and ask for her feedback in a mature conversation.

She may have been subconsciously being mean, and calling her out on it can correct the behaviour.

But be prepared that she may try to play the victim and turn things around on you. If this occurs, immediately end the conversation, do not engage anymore, and walk away no matter how hard she tries to ‘bait’ you into an argument.

“Being strong enough to survive life’s obstacles, difficulties and unanswered questions is what we know as resilience. Resilience allows you to cope with challenging situations. It gives you the tenacity and energy, both mental and physical, to continue when you are sure you need to stop. It drives mental perseverance, mental health and supports wellbeing. It is as important to overcoming obstacles in your way as oxygen is to breathing. It is critical in adapting to change.” An excerpt from my book First Comes Courage – by Sonia McDonald.

Are you finding it hard to stand up for yourself and lack the courage to do so? Well, my life-changing leadership book might be just what you need. It teaches you everything you need to know to develop, nurture and grow courage within yourself. So get yourself a copy today! 

3.  Avoid Engaging In Gossip And Drama

When another woman is mean to you for no apparent reason, it’s tempting to gossip about her or make her look bad. After all, it’s human nature!

But you should avoid conversations that involve negatively talking about the mean girl. Gossiping will only fuel the fire. It could lead to further conflict and make the situation worse for everyone involved. 

Firstly, there’s a chance she’ll find out what you’ve done. And if she does, things are likely to only escalate. Also, gossiping and drama are not good for your mental and physical health! It will only lead to an increase in stress and anxiety and also make you more self-conscious. Not to mention, you’re likely to lose focus and struggle to concentrate on getting work done.

So how do you avoid engaging in gossip and drama? First, try being kinder than the person who is being mean to you. Have you found yourself guilty of listening and participating in gossip about other female co-workers? It’s easy to get carried away without realising it. If you have, it’s time to correct your behaviour and stop doing it.

According to Gavel International, 1 in 5 employees have quit their job because of gossip and drama in the workplace. In contrast, 38% of employees have been jealous or developed animosity towards co-workers due to gossiping.

“If you attach to the negative behaviour of others it brings you down to their level.” – Guru Singh

4.  Focus On Solutions, Not Blame

It’s easy to get wrapped up in assigning who is to blame when another woman is being mean to you. But, instead of pointing fingers, try to focus on finding solutions that could benefit both parties involved in the conflict.

This can help keep things civil between you two while still helping resolve any issues present in the workplace. For example, is there something that you are doing or aren’t doing that is causing her to be toxic towards you?

Can you find common ground and reach a mutual understanding to keep things professional?

Does she have any possible solutions to improve interactions for both of you? Finding a solution and taking the high ground will create a positive work environment that eliminates any toxicity and negativity that distracts from getting work done. 

5.  Reduce Your Interactions If Possible

This may not always be possible, depending on your role and if she is a direct team member. But, if you can, remove yourself from the toxic situation as much as possible.

Limit your interactions to the bare minimum. While you probably can’t avoid them 100% of the time, you can have some control over how much you have to interact with them which will do wonders for your mental health.

“Dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power.” – Shirley MacLaine

6.  Document Evidence

Documentation is critical when proving toxic behaviour in the workplace, so keep track of any evidence that shows that your female co-worker is being mean, rude, or unprofessional towards you.

If you can’t avoid her entirely or have to work closely together, this is a good approach to take. It can help you observe her behaviour and detach from it instead of letting it affect you emotionally.

Also, suppose the toxic woman ever raises a complaint against you in the future. In that case, you also have a record to prove otherwise.

It is also helpful if things get worse and you need to take further action against her by speaking to a manager or HR.

Be sure to keep records of all interactions and any instances of bullying or harassment, no matter how minor they may seem.

7.  Ask Colleagues For Support

It’s important to have a support system in place when dealing with a female bully in the workplace. Reaching out to trusted colleagues can help provide a perspective on the situation.

Also, you can ask if they have observed the same type of behaviour? For example, have they noticed the mean girl treating you this way? Have they also experienced it themselves? Is it not as bad as you think? Or is it even worse?

They can provide an unbiased view into the mean behaviour and offer advice on the best way for you to address it.

8.  Find A Mentor

Find a senior-level female mentor in the workplace who can offer support. She can also help guide you through any challenges that may arise from dealing with aggression from another woman.

Sometimes having someone outside the situation who is willing to listen and offer advice can help get through challenging situations like this.

She may also be able to act as a mediator to help resolve any problems the other woman may have with you.

“Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.” – Oprah Winfrey

9.  Escalate The Situation To Management Or HR

If you have tried other options listed above and the situation escalates, you have other options available. Don’t hesitate to contact HR for help and advice on how to handle it.

First, consider speaking with your manager about the issue. However, what if it goes unaddressed, or the mean woman is in a senior management position herself?

According to AllVoices, The State of Workplace Harassment report, 53% of employees said that their workplace addressed any harassment issue immediately.

If your manager doesn’t help, you should seek Human Resources help instead. They may be able to help mediate a solution between you and the other woman.

It is crucial to have already documented as much evidence as possible to support your claim, especially if she is in a position of power and influence. This way, it won’t turn into she said-she said standoff and HR are likely to take action.

10.                Practice Self-Care And Positive Affirmations

Lastly, I want to take a moment to remind you all that it’s important to remember to take care of yourself during times like these and that it’s okay to focus on the positive aspects of your job and life.

When another woman is being mean, remember that you are more than this moment. You have a whole life ahead of you! You have so many wonderful things going for you—whether it’s your career, your family, or your friends—and they are worth celebrating.

So please take some time out today and look at your life through a positive lens.

Try meditation. Step outside of the office and go for a walk. Listen to relaxing music, audiobooks or podcasts.

Also, don’t feel guilty about taking time off from work or seeking professional help if you need to.

If you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Taking a break and getting help will only make you stronger in the long run.


Final Thoughts

The workplace can be a tricky place for women, especially when it comes to dealing with mean female colleagues.

Consider trying the above suggestions to take action and deal with the situation directly. But if you don’t feel comfortable, or the problem has escalated, you should document everything and approach your manager or HR for assistance.

Remember, you are not alone – there are always steps that can be taken to make sure toxic behaviour does not continue unchecked in your workplace environment.

No one deserves to be bullied or harassed at work. You have the strength and power to create a positive work environment for yourself, no matter what.

Is your organisation experiencing a mean and toxic negative culture, and you want to turn it around? Well, it isn’t as impossible as it sounds. My ‘Creating A Culture That Rocks’ Keynote Presentation can teach you everything you need to build an amazing company culture from the ground up that people love to be a part of!

We have launched the most transformational group coaching, online programs, one day workshops and W Lead 12 month intensive program in 2023!

I also offer one-on-one coaching and mentorship to help women in business to bring out their inner courage in all aspects of their lives. So, contact me today to learn more and take the first step towards transforming your life.

Let’s support each other and lift each other up instead of tearing each other down!

By Sonia McDonald – CEO Of LeadershipHQ And McDonald Inc. Leadership Coach, Global Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO And Award Winning Author.

sonia@soniamcdonald.com.au

Sonia is passionate about her voice. When Sonia speaks, everyone in the room feels like she is having a conversation with them as her audience will feel as if they are the only one in the room. She speaks from the heart. She is brave. She wants everyone to be brave. She is an impactful and motivational leadership expert and speaker that creates a life-changing experience. People call Sonia sassy, inspirational, real and a speaker who leaves a lasting impression. Her high-energy, authenticity and humour combined with actionable and practical advice, empowers her audience and provides them with great drive and confidence to take courageous actions and inspire great leadership in all aspects of their lives.

Sonia also is founder of LeadershipHQ and McDonald Inc. and is also a renowned and award-winning author, having written several of her own books, Leadership Attitude, Just Rock It! and First Comes Courage as well as being a regular contributor in The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. She was named as one of the Top 250 Influential Women in the world as well as Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs by Richtopia.

Through her leadership advisory and coaching work at LeadershipHQ, and founding the Outstanding Leadership Awards, Sonia is internationally recognised as an expert in leadership and culture, organisational development, neuroscience, kindness, and courage.

Sonia is also a full-time single parent and has a passion for women in business and teenage mental health. Sonia travels and speaks across Australia and Globe, and she is on a mission to building a world of great leaders and leadership.

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