Friday, November 2, 2012

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

Working in a female-dominated industry, I have dealt with my share of “mean girls”.  These women have run the gamut from just a little bit catty to extremely disrespectful.  When I received Mean Girls at Work by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, I was hoping to get some validation that I had handled these situations correctly or some advice on any future situations.  What I got was a little bit of good advice (and some validation) in a repetitive, slightly juvenile, sometimes over the top format.
The chapters are divided into different types of mean girls, starting with the most extreme to the passively mean woman.  There is a brief description of each type of mean girl, followed by a potential bad act this mean girl might perform.  For example, she might “belittle your accomplishments”.  There is an example of how that may happen.  I found these little vignettes to be silly and a bit unrealistic.  I have worked around women my entire professional career, and even the meanest woman I have ever worked with never spoke in some of these ways.  I cannot imagine a professional woman really saying something like “Congratulations, but you know that’s not a prestigious award”.  It just seems so middle school.  I do not doubt that women in the workplace do belittle each other, but the example seemed so trivial and so juvenile that I checked out when it came to the advice.  This sort of example was frequent throughout the book.  Another example —a mean girl asking in a joking manner, “Want me to help you turn on your computer?” loudly across the room.  I just cannot see that happening in today’s workplace.
After the vignette, there is a brief section entitled “How You Feel” that explains how you might feel if you encounter this situation.  Each one of these sections is some variation on you might be angry/upset/resentful. etc.  Following that is a section called “Don’t Go There” that gives you advice on what not to do in the situation.  There is some good advice here in the “Don’t Go There” section, but I found it extremely repetitive.  In nearly every situation, the counsel is the same.  Don’t complain about her.  Don’t gossip about her.  Don’t confront her in a negative way. 
Following “Don’t Go There” there is a section called “Go Here” that gives advice about what you should do. .  Again, the advice is nearly always identical.  Be professional and assertive.  If you need to talk about it, talk to someone who does not have a connection to your work.  The only variation was in some cases, you should talk to your boss and in other less serious cases you should handle the problem yourself.
I have no doubt that the authors of this book had good intentions and that they have many strategies and techniques that can make the workplace more productive and professional.  But writing this book in the second person (“You’re shocked at her presumed authority.”) is limiting and seems condescending.  I think it would have been far more effective to write the counsel that they are offering in a prose manner with a few sections for the advice.  By repeating the same format throughout the book, it felt repetitive and silly.  In addition, I confused the mean girl titles throughout the whole book because they all sounded very similar. 
In conclusion, there is some good advice in Mean Girls at Work but it is strictly at a superficial level.  I would have loved to have read a book that gave real examples and gave more solid advice about how to react to “mean girls” in the workplace.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Regina

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