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Mean Girls – in the Workplace?

In the past month, I’ve had two clients contact me with almost the exact same problem. A female employee, newer to the job, was quitting or had quit because of two other women in the office excluding them, not supporting them, and essentially, being mean.

I have to admit hearing the stories took me right back to school where there always seemed to be a group of girls who were very cliquish. If you were in with them, great! You probably had an easy time of it. If you weren’t, your school experience could have been like a nightmare.

Because of our cyber-world, bullying among kids has gotten much increased attention. But what is happening with otherwise, very capable adults, acting like children in the workplace?

Without going too much into the psychology of the characters in this scenario (though there is clearly a perpetrator, victim, and savior) and writing pages and pages about what is behind the bullying traits of the Mean Girl and the wounded traits of the Victim, I am instead going to address the manager.

Why? Because in both of the scenarios above, it was the manager who contacted me. And in many of these scenarios, the Mean Girls don’t have the desire, nor does the Victim have the tools or authority, to handle the situation. If they did, the situation wouldn’t exist in the first place.

To the Manager: If you are dealing with a Mean Girls situation, you may have already had many conversations, back and forth, between those involved. That’s part of the problem. When meeting with employees separately (any employees who have conflict), you find yourself in a “he said – she said” kind of scenario.

Each employee, out of earshot of the other, tends to share their version of events which is filled with all sorts of opinions, exaggerations and interpretations. So when they have your ear, all you are getting is their version. Then when you talk to the other party, you get their version. You will drive yourself crazy trying to reconcile these two versions because everyone sees the situation from their own perspective. And remember, their perception is their reality!

The solution is to call both parties in together. And believe me, they will hate it!
But this is really the ONLY WAY to get to the facts of the matter (facts are observable, things that were seen or heard).

You see, when people have to share their version IN FRONT OF THE OTHER PERSON, they will have to drop all their stories and exaggerations.

What the MG tells you privately: “She is incompetent, unqualified for the job and should never have been hired in the first place” (labels, opinion and exaggeration)

What the MG says in front of the Victim: “After the training, you were still asking me questions that the answers can be found in the manual” (fact)

What the Victim tells you privately: “She is so superior and thinks she is better than everyone else” (labels, opinion and exaggeration)

What the Victim says in front of the MG: “Since I started, you have never asked me to lunch” (fact)

Do you see the difference in the amount of “juice” in these statements? Facts are so much easier to deal with because they are neutral and less controversial. It’s what we make the facts mean that give it so much potential to cause drama.

I have seen conflict that has been going on for months clear up after one conversation that was fact-based. So help your employees stick to the facts. What did they see? What did they hear directly from the source? Even in a court of law, the report of another person’s words by a witness, is considered “hear say” and is not allowed as evidence in a court of law.

To better understand how prevalent this is, I would like to hear from people who have either witnessed or experienced the Mean Girl scenario at work and any additional recommendations for dealing with it.

**Note: When I posted this article to LinkedIn, there was a comment regarding the fact that this type of situation happens to all genders, i.e. men vs. women, men vs. men. I answered that while that may be true, in my personal experience, the conflict between women that I have experienced and witnessed seems to be more prevalent and more vicious.

What do you think? In your experience, is woman to woman conflict different? I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you’d be willing, click over to my LinkedIn page and add your comments to the conversation at the bottom of the article.

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