We all know them. The ladies who appear to be our friends with us when they need us, but in a click of a heel they’ll look the other way as soon as the cool kids come around. They are the ones who are on the same level playing field as us, but then we find them constantly undermining what we do, or take credit for our hard work. What gives? We called upon leadership coach, Elizabeth Dulberger, for some insight. As one of  North America’s most sought after Leadership advisors to CEOs, entrepreneurs and management teams, Dulberger also finds herself offering advice through various media outlets including CBS Radio and Business Daily. She’s become an in-demand coach for some of the world’s top companies including CIBC Wood Gundy, Brookside Companies, and others including U.S. political figures and athletes. She’s also author of the book Smoke and Mirrors: Strategic Self-Awareness for Leaders and Future Leaders (available on Amazon).

So, you thought we would have grown out of that shit since our teen years? Nope, that bish is STILL hanging around. So, we wanted to know about what to do about the mean girls in the office.

So, Elizabeth is this all in our minds? Are we being paranoid and insecure? 

This isn’t in our minds, this is very prevalent and everyone knows about it. Some women try and keep up the façade that this doesn’t occur and that we support each other but that isn’t true. Women have fought very hard to get into positions of power and recognition and they are very careful not to lose that to other women so they watch their territory much more carefully then men. They guard their accomplishments so tightly that their responses and lack of inclusion can be felt very strongly by women who are motivated and determined.

We’re often taught to remain calm just ignore these people in our lives but when it comes to work, it affects our careers. “People who count will notice.” But what if they don’t notice? What can we do? 

Amazing question. In my opinion the only thing that works in that situation is to focus on your own promotion and your own success. Women who have to deal with mean girls should embark on a politically savvy promotion of their own merit, work and brand. The only women that mean girls “attack” are the ones they perceive to be weak or out of the spotlight.

So how do you handle this? Start getting into the spotlight where their mistreatment of you may be noticed by someone of influence. If you start to build friendships and getting noticed by others, this behaviour will decrease. If your work and dedication starts to get noticed, this behaviour turns around from bullying into “fake support” which is still okay since at least perceived support is better than blatant undermining. The only way to get these women to change their behaviour is to invest in your brand immediately, they will have no choice, as mean girls never undermine in the spotlight.

Do we need to toot our own horn? But how without sounding “braggy”?

Yes women need to talk a lot more about their accomplishments. This doesn’t always need to be done directly, We need to get smarter about getting others to talk about our accomplishments. When we focus on impressing 1-2 people in some way (we helped them deliver a tough project, meet a tough deadline etc.) they will take on the bragging for you and once you secure such people, the burden on delivering these accomplishments don’t always have to sit with us. Having said that, we will need to add a few direct “I managed to accomplish this” and “I was so happy to be able to get this completed so quickly” Braggy or not, who cares – I don’t see anyone else getting in line to brag about us, we need to do it ourselves and do it in a mix of (us and others)!

How do we confront these co-workers? 

When you step back from people, they want to step towards you. When your response is silence people start wondering what we are thinking. I have always confronted this with silent strength. Silent strength doesn’t mean you run away quiet like a little mouse but it means I never fed the beast. I never let anyone see that I was affected by this. It is powering through and gaining even more determination and even more strength after each dismissal – when they can’t make you run away and lose your confidence then you become stronger in their eyes until they eventually start admiring your power and over time change their attitude. This has worked for me and works for my clients BUT you must have the patience to stay strong because this doesn’t turn around over night. So the answer to the question from my point of you is “let your strength, perseverance and confident of non-reaction be your confrontation” “I am simply not affected because what you are doing is insignificant in my life and insignificant to my self-esteem” FIND the strength to feel that for real.

We keep getting advice of shedding toxic people in our lives, but in the workplace how is that even possible?

Avoiding toxicity in the office:
1) Feed yourself enough so whatever they take from you still leaves you whole
2) Most toxic behaviour is situational meaning it comes out strong in politically charged situations, try and stay away from those situations as much as possible, CONTROL YOUR EXPOSURE!
3) Manage your reaction (as I explained above in question 4) There are 3 ways: Feed yourself, Control exposure, Control reaction.
Elizabeth Dulberger’s book Smoke and Mirrors: Strategic Self-Awareness for Leaders and Future Leaders is available on Amazon.ca
Thanks for the advice, Elizabeth!