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Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal

Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal

by Katherine Crowley, Kathi Elster

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One of the New York Post's Top 10 Career Books of 2012 and a Booklist Top 10 Business Book


A woman’s field guide to the new frontier of professional development—working with other women

Women-to-women relationships in the workplace are . . . complicated. When they’re good,


One of the New York Post's Top 10 Career Books of 2012 and a Booklist Top 10 Business Book


A woman’s field guide to the new frontier of professional development—working with other women

Women-to-women relationships in the workplace are . . . complicated. When they’re good, they’re great. But when they’re bad, they can ruin your day, your week—even your year.

Packed with proven advice from two of today’s leading experts in workplace relationships, this one-of-a-kind guide gives women the tools they need to navigate difficult situations unique to women-to-women relationships—whether with a boss, a colleague, a client, or an employee.

Have you dealt with a woman in the workplace who:

  • “Accidentally” excludes you from important meetings?
  • Seems intent on taking you down professionally?
  • Gossips about you with other coworkers?
  • Makes you look bad by missing deadlines?
  • Forms a “pack” of mean girls to make your life miserable?

Mean Girls at Work isn’t just about surviving difficult situations. It’s about transforming a toxic relationship into one that benefits and supports both of you.

This book is also for women who engage in mean behavior . . . but don’t know it. After all, who hasn’t gossiped about a female coworker? Who hasn’t rolled her eyes in the presence of a woman she doesn’t like? Who hasn’t scanned another woman head to toe—which is just a nonverbal way of saying, “You’ve just been judged”? The authors provide invaluable advice to the more subtle ways of being mean—even if they’re not intended.

With a workforce composed of a higher percentage of women than ever, workplace dynamics have changed. Crowley and Elster cover every conceivable scenario, providing critical advice on how to rise above the fray and move forward professionally.

Mean Girls at Work is your map to dodging the mines and moving forward in today’s transformed workplace.

Praise for Mean Girls at Work

“An invaluable suit of armor for surviving nine to five!”
—Leil Lowndes, bestselling author of How to Talk to Anyone

“If you think the emotional cruelty of comedies like Mean Girls and Heathers doesn’t exist in the real world workplace, think again. In Mean Girls at Work, Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster valuably chronicle female vs. female predators and offer solid defensive strategies.”
—Ann Kreamer, author of It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace

“Whether you are in your twenties and just starting your professional career, your midcareer forties, when you are supposed to have figured it out already, or a woman in her fifties or sixties who’s seen it all—this book is a must-read. . . . The authors have finally given women the tools and the sound advice necessary to deal with . . . conflicts that keep us all from succeeding. . . . Carry this book with you to work every day!”
—Carolyn Cassin, President, Michigan Women’s Foundation

“A must-read for women of all ages in today’s workforce. This book offers what we all need to develop the capacities to endure this ever-changing workplace. We know it is all about relationships and you need the skills outlined in this book to survive and thrive when the Mean Girls attack.”
—Kim Harrington, Coordinator, Professional Development and Training, Office of Human Resources, California State University, Sacramento

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
For their latest, business coaches Crowley and Elster (coauthors of Working with You Is Killing Me) offer a wan, patronizing look at office politics between professional women. The authors break down the various kinds of “difficult” women one may encounter at work—those for whom being mean, overtly or covertly, is a method of career survival; cliquey women; drama queens; and those who are unaware they’re being mean. They break down the subtle kinds of insults and injuries that women inflict upon each other in the workplace, including gossip, exclusion, small slights, and outright sabotage. Crowley and Elster suggest a somewhat passive course of action—the “Don’t Go There” route, which describes a strategy of professional defusing—illustrated through a series of Cosmoesque exaggerated fables. While the suggested solutions are reasonable, and some of the scenarios are doubtless a concern for some women in the workplace, the overall tone is superficial. The opening (“Just as there’s a little bad in every boy, there’s a little mean in every girl”) should be a signal to the reader that unless she is a 14-year-old girl, she should look elsewhere for help navigating office politics. Agent: Elaine Markson, Markson Thoma Literary Agency. (Nov.)
Bust Magazine
"Offers a friendly, consoling tone that is sure to help women who are at their wits’ end. The book even asks readers to examine their own office behavior, pointing out that even seemingly innocuous gossip can be harmful to others."

Library Journal
Psychotherapist Crowley and management consultant Elster (coauthors, Working with You Is Killing Me) return to the subject of toxic workplaces, but their focus is on "mean girls," or especially noxious women colleagues, and the numerous ways they can affect the satisfaction and career goals of their fellow female coworkers. It's a narrow subject, and the book reads more like an online advice article than a cohesive narrative. Each chapter describes a different type of mean girl, from "meanest of the mean" to "group mean," and every mean in between, and then offers advice in the form of "Don't Go There" (actions you shouldn't take) and "Go Here" (actions you should), as well as sidebar "Coffee Breaks" that give general advice for such challenging workplaces. VERDICT If working with a "mean girl" is truly a reader's biggest problem at work, dipping into this book for specific advice might help. Those looking for broader suggestions on workplace relations might prefer the authors' earlier book or more engaging titles like Robert Sutton's The No Asshole Rule.—Sarah Statz Cords, The Reader's Advisor Online, Middleton, WI

Product Details

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Read an Excerpt


How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal

By Katherine Crowley, Kathi Elster

The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2013Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-180205-5



The Different Faces of Mean

What Is a Mean Girl?

When you think of a mean girl at work, what comes to mind? Do images of Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada pop into your head? Do you envision Cruella de Vil of 101 Dalmatians or the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz? Do you picture a woman who is unkind, spiteful, vicious, unfriendly, cold, aggressive, manipulative, nasty, vengeful, and power- hungry?

The mean girls (and women) we read about, see portrayed on the screen, and sometimes encounter at work usually share certain characteristics:

• They are the workplace bullies.

• They pick on women who are weaker than they are.

• They say cruel things that make other women cry.

• They freeze other women out.

• They seem determined to take other women down.

• They're jealous of anyone else's success.

These are some of the typical characteristics that emerge when women describe truly unkind women at work. They depict mean girls in the extreme. "Vicious," "cruel," and "vengeful"—such behaviors are easy to recognize and associate with the mean girl profile. A woman who treats her colleagues in such obviously uncaring ways is clearly mean.

But consider the more subtle kinds of mean behavior that one woman can show toward another, the less obvious ways in which one woman might hurt, insult, or otherwise injure her workplace colleagues:

• Have you ever rolled your eyes when a woman you didn't like started speaking?

• Have you ever given or received an intimidating up-and-down scan that said, "I'm judging you"?

• Have you ever gossiped about someone who rubbed you the wrong way?

• Who hasn't watched one woman open her mouth and utter the universally recognizable "agh" sigh of disgust aimed at another woman in a group?

These kinds of mean gestures are harder to detect, yet they are frequently made by women in the workplace. And while you may be a generally kind and loving person, we bet there are certain women you've encountered who bring out your meaner side.

Just as there's a little bad in every boy, there's a little mean in every girl. "Mean" is the inherently female way of showing displeasure, of staking out our territory and telling another woman to back off.

Make no mistake: we are huge fans of women. We are women ourselves, and we're invested in the notion that women can and should be full players at work and in the world. We're also aware that woman-to-woman relationships are naturally intense. The biological imperative that compels us to "tend and befriend" can generate amazing friendships and incredibly productive work teams in any setting.

But women are complicated. While most of us want to be kind and nurturing, we struggle with our darker side—feelings of jealousy, envy, and competition. While men tend to compete in an overt manner—jockeying for position and fighting to be crowned "winners"—women often compete more covertly and behind the scenes. This covert competition and indirect aggression is at the heart of mean behavior among women at work.

Over the course of this book, we are going to give you strategies for handling a wide array of situations with women at work. In each case, one or more of the women involved could be labeled "mean." We're going to teach you our method for staying professional no matter how personally another woman attacks you or hurts your feelings.

To begin our journey, let's look at the seven categories of mean that we'll be addressing in this book. Each category will have its own chapter, in which we'll describe specific situations that you may face involving another woman at work, along with field-tested tactics for keeping the relationship professional no matter what happens. Here we go.

Meanest of the mean. These are the women who feel that they must be mean in order to survive. They view other women as objects to be won over, manipulated, or eliminated. They lack compassion, and they are unable to see anybody else's point of view. An example is the Ice Princess who treats everyone around her with disdain.

Very mean. These women are tough on the outside and insecure on the inside. They do and say mean things whenever they encounter a woman who threatens them. They are quick to feel jealous, envious, and competitive with another woman. An example is the vicious gossip who spreads rumors to make another woman (whom she's jealous of) look bad.

Passively mean. This category of mean girls includes any woman who acts nice, but is covertly competitive. Because she fears confrontation, her mean comes out indirectly—through exclusion, omission, and avoidance. An example is the coworker who "accidentally" excludes you from a meeting where your attendance matters.

Doesn't mean to be mean. These are the women who are extremely self- absorbed. Their unconscious, inconsiderate behavior strikes other women as mean, but they don't see it. They are oblivious to the impact of their actions. An example is the coworker who is chronically late, leaving you in the lurch.

Doesn't know she's mean. These mean girls behave in ways that they think improve a situation, but that actually alienate the women around them. They are usually quite self-righteous and controlling. An example is a coworker who bosses you around because she thinks you need the benefit of her knowledge.

Brings out your mean. Certain women at work may get on your nerves. They have poor interpersonal boundaries and demand a lot of attention. Their neediness brings out your mean. You find yourself lashing out, gossiping about the person, avoiding her, or making faces when she's speaking. An example is the insecure coworker who asks too many questions, interrupting your workflow and depleting you of your energy.

Group mean. Sometimes mean girls form packs. There's usually a leader who enlists other women to taunt, tease, shut out, or otherwise attack an unsuspecting female employee. An example is a workplace clique that whispers when you walk by; you feel alienated and humiliated by them.

Our "Don't Go There" Process

For every mean girl situation we describe, we're going to show you how to manage the other woman's behavior by using our five-step "Don't Go There" process.

Women are processors. Most women sort out their experiences by hashing them out with other women. When something good or bad happens to us, we talk about it. For example, if a woman is bullied by a certain type of mean girl, she may feel attacked. She then seeks out friends, coworkers, family members, or mentors to hear her story, confirm how she's feeling, and offer different ideas for addressing the situation.

When a woman feels attacked, she automatically goes through a three-step process:

1. She finds an ally and reports (with emotion) what the attacking woman did.

Example: "You've got to hear what she just did to me."

2. She follows the report with how she's feeling.

Example: "I'm so mad I could spit. She humiliated me in front of everyone. How could she do that?"

3. She then describes how she'd like to counterattack

Example: "I'm never talking to her again," or, "The next time she asks for help, she's out of luck."

If the attacked woman acts on her impulse to counterattack, she takes that workplace relationship out of the prof

Excerpted from MEAN GIRLS AT WORK by Katherine Crowley, Kathi Elster. Copyright © 2013 by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Katherine Crowley is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist, and Kathi Elster is a management consultant and executive coach. They run K Squared Enterprises, a training firm that helps clients manage difficult situa­tions in the workplace.

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