The 5th Dimension

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Women v. Women: How to Handle the Troubling Side of Female Working Relationships That Tear You Down

As I was thinking about this blog and reliving my own moments of sadness and pain related to the topic of women v. women, while having conversations with other women, it became clear that this subject matter was difficult to talk about and long overdue. In terms of how to deal with it, the best advice I can give is head-on. 

Here’s the rub: we women, at our finest, are strong, resilient, caring, and amazing beings able to juggle the many aspects of life with grace and civility. When we work together, we are able to build the strongest support networks that benefit everyone. Unfortunately, we may also be vindictive, ostracizing, and demeaning towards each other. And sadly, when women are more the latter, there’s a price to pay, as it robs us of some of our hard-earned confidence. Instead of propping each other up, we pull each other down in an attempt to make ourselves feel good or accomplished or powerful. But, here’s the thing: It. Doesn’t. Work. When we tear each other down we hurt the victim. But we also hurt ourselves as we destroy a powerful alliance and network for an ungratifying act.

Knock It Off

And for the most part, we all know this. We all know that often young girls are raised to compare themselves with other young girls or hell, I don’t know, they watch their mother’s do it, so they simply rinse and repeat. We also know that this is wrong. But it keeps happening. So many women, including myself and women I coach, have at least one story about detrimental encounters with other women.

These instances seem to be more common in the workplace. Here, women are under severe amounts of pressure to perform and meet goals- often underappreciated and underpaid. Sometimes, when competing with men for moves up the corporate ladder, we adapt ourselves so completely to “fit in” that we end up squeezing the balloon the other way and hurt our own kind in the process. Ideally, this would encourage women to band together as there is always strength in numbers. And often, that is the case. But, there are still cases of women succumbing to the easy, playground tactics to try and put someone down, while deludedly thinking it raises them up.  Let me be clear. Regardless of race, gender, culture, upbringing, social status, etc., there is never a time when it is okay for any of us to treat any other living thing as garbage. So STOP IT

In the meantime, as we cultivate our kinder, gentler selves, and, as someone who has been on the receiving end of the vitriol (you can check out my video where I talk about my specific experience), I wanted to give some helpful tips on how to handle a couple awkward, hurtful situations.

Bathroom Gossip

Almost every woman I know has either participated in, heard, or been on the receiving end of bathroom gossip. When two or more women gather in the bathroom and vent about their disapproval of another woman at the company. And while it may give the perpetrators a moment of false confidence, hearing your name and qualities criticized by your coworkers is pretty traumatic. It happened to me. So, trust me when I say my first instinct was to figure out how to hide my shoes underneath the stall so that they wouldn’t realize I was in the bathroom. After that initial moment of panic, however, I realized that if I didn’t confront the situation now, I would never be able to move past this. So, I opened the door with some force (I didn’t throw it open but it was forceful) and walked out to face my accusers. The horror on their faces when they realized I had heard every word was so gratifying. I just simply washed my hands and walked out past the now shock-paralyzed women.

So, if you find yourself on the receiving end of the cowardly act of bathroom gossip, hold your head high and look your criticizers in the eyes. It shows them that you are too strong for their words and makes them feel ashamed of their actions and – hopefully – will deter them in the future. Now, in this particular case, I never confronted them one-on-one about the incident. But, if it happens to you, depending on the situation, you may find that sitting down with each woman and discussing the event is the best way to move forward.  Of course, always remember praise in public and criticize in private.  I learned long ago that taking the high road is always the answer even when you’re “wronged.”

Ostracizing

Women are almost unique in quickly forming close bonds and relationships and yet are also remarkably apt at flipping those bonds to ostracize and discriminate.

These situations are sticky, tricky, and, like everything else we’re talking about, hurtful. If you feel like you are being ostracized by women at work, depending on the situation, the best thing to do first is gently and civilly confront whomever it is you feel is ostracizing you. It’s daunting and it’s scary, I know. But it forces you and them to face facts (make sure that you are operating on facts and not fiction) and possibly get to the bottom of an unspoken problem. If you hit a brick wall here, move up the chain. Talk to your manager, your boss, someone whose advice you trust. Tell them the situation, explain to them how it is affecting you, and brainstorm possible solutions.

If none of these work or you're in a situation where confronting the problem so directly is not possible- succeed. Nobody has permission to make you feel inferior except yourself. Show everyone that you have matured past high school and won’t be brought down by such petty tactics.

Ladies, we are discriminated against enough, we must not discriminate against one another.  Who’s with me?  (I miss Sally Field’s performance in Norma Rae!)

Women! Let’s Move Forward!

This is lofty, I know. But let’s begin to consciously move forward, past the venom that may sometimes accompany working relationships with our female counterparts. When you see a new woman at work, instead of judging her negatively, find out what her strengths are and how she will best help the company and her own career path grow. And finally, before I get off my soapbox, let woman-kind show the world how powerful we are when we join forces and propel each other up and to the top.