The Mean Girl’s Club: How To Keep The War Wounds From Festering

I didn’t get invited to lunch or coffee runs or happy hour to celebrate a new success. I wasn’t asked to join team brainstorming sessions with my agency counterparts or collaborate on new projects. When my mid-year review came around it included cutting, anonymous quotes from women I’d hardly shared a real conversation with, one calling me ‘arrogant.’ I felt bewildered, humiliated and confused. And it was the best thing that happened to me.

This competitive—let’s call it—‘mean girl’ office mentality has become less popular since Lean In, and real life successful women have shown that it’s better to play nice. But the nastiness does still exist.

Because I’ve been in the trenches where pretty, manicured hands are throwing ugly, explosive grenades there are a few things I did to keep my war wounds from festering.

1. Say ‘thank you.’ My career began in the news industry where tearing up a script in your face was a form of constructive criticism. It made me tough, but it also taught me how to deal with bullies. It’s harder for someone to tear you down when you smile and thank that person for his/her idea.

2. Be a good teacher. Keep in mind that bullying is a learned behavior. Someone probably treated your co-worker in the same way that he/she is treating you, so help that person unlearn the behavior by setting a good example.

3. Listen to what’s not being said. Mean people are unhappy people. There’s something missing in his/her life that they think you have, which makes you the enemy. I had a co-worker leave me out of meetings because she didn’t like people asking about my pregnancy.

4. Build alliances. If you’ve seen the movie Mean Girls, then you understand that there’s a ringleader in the club. But, you might be surprised what happens when you get to know other co-workers one-on-one. People like to share their opinions, so try asking someone to coffee for an ‘I’d love to get your candid feedback on this.’ The ask must be sincere though.

5. Find an office mentor. During my time at the aforementioned agency, my mentor was a male. He was a good husband, happy father and had a deadpan sense of humor. Your mentor is not someone for you to vent to when you’re angry. It’s a waste of your time and theirs. Rather, sit in on a meeting or client phone call to see how they handle conflict—the right way. It’s quite refreshing.

6. Start drinking. I’m not a crier, but everybody has a breaking point. The eye rolls, mumbles, passive aggressive emails day-in and out can wear on you. But do not let them see you cry. That’s what coffee runs are for. It’s amazing what a 20-minute break will do for your mental state.

7. Be yourself. To me this is non-negotiable in any setting. But it’s hard to stay true when you feel like the odd man out every time you open your mouth or smile in a hostile setting.

The irony of this post is that I went on to a leadership position at another agency—helping working moms connect and new ones navigate the terrifying transition. I taught orientation to the newbies, and was almost always the first to ask a newcomer to lunch. My mission at work and in all personal settings is to make people feel welcome. Because I sat at the empty lunch table for far too long.

How do you deal with mean girls—or guys—in (and outside) of the office? I’m pretty sure there’s far more than 7 how-to’s for the list.

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(Non) Stay-at-home mama raising my three screaming cubs while restoring our 35-acres of wilderness just outside of Cleveland. Copywriter, sheep herder and fixer upper. I live in muck boots, jeans and wear dangling toddlers as accessories.

14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • It is so easy to be jealous of those who are smart, beautiful and successful — and Rachel has all of those qualities. This post motivated me to sit down with my kids and talk about standing up for others. I wish I always have been strong and secure enough to do so.

    Thank you, Rachel, for sharing your story with us!

  • Rachel – Thank you so much for sharing this blog. I feel very lucky to have stayed connected to you (even though there are times I am not sure I deserve your friendship). Thank you for being brave and also for not letting situations like this change you. You have a lot of confidence and happen to also be successful, which makes you an easy target. Hopefully some women will read this and take your tips to heart and come out of it like you — with an incredible perspective focused on the positive. Thanks for being my friend and for blogging on SheInTheCLE. Keep doing both:)

  • Love what you’ve written here!! You are such a superstar at everything you do!
    I think being true to yourself and not getting caught up in the “gossip” at work is difficult but so important. Let’s teach our daughters and sons this too!

  • So many great reminders on it’s typically not you it’s them. Cheers to telling your story and supporting women in business!!

    • Thank you! I am overwhelmed by the shares, messages, txts, likes and comments. SO happy that people took the message to heart.

    • Thank you for taking time out of your day to read this, and for always being such a kind, sincere leader in the industry. 😉

  • Such a great post with fantastic advice! It’s tough being in a Mean Girl situation, especially in a professional environment, and it takes an incredible amount of confidence and strength to rise above it.

    You really nailed it when you explain that those hard feeling are a reflection of the other person, not your work. Great work, Rachel!

    • Thank you Jenn! I’d say ‘hang in there’ but you said it best ‘rise above.’ I’ll be cheering for you in spirit!

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