Competitive Women at Work - Recap Part 2

Posted by Kate Jurras on Wed, Nov 3, 2010

...continued from Part 1!

Speakers Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster divided their talk, Competitive Women at Work: From Fighting to Uniting, into four parts, detailing four types of competitive personalities, and the right and wrong ways to handle these personalities. The speakers arranged each mini discussion into a description of the offending character, followed by: “the fight,” tempting, but ineffective ways to deal with the offending person; and “unite,” tools for resolving, or removing yourself from the conflict.

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The Gossip: This type of person uses information about others to appear powerful. She is often chatty, friendly, and eager to share “spicy information” about others, with or without supporting evidence.

The Fight: When confronted with a gossip at work, it can be tempting to fight back by joining in and spreading the gossip, gossiping about the offending person (the management is unlikely to care about a petty-sounding problem), telling on her, or confronting her (ineffective—she will deny it).

Unite: What you should do in response to a gossip is: try to set a good example—don’t gossip! Express disinterest—when she begins to gossip, change the subject. Embrace her for who she is, not what she says—gossips often have low self-esteem. Fact-check—does she know this for sure, or is it just a rumor?

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The Backstabber: This person uses words to flatter you to your face, but puts you down behind your back. She is overly solicitous, and works hard to gain your trust. This technique is very effective on women who are susceptible to flattery—if you are being harmed by a backstabber, ask yourself if you have been in this situation before. The answer is often yes.

You will eventually recognize that you are being backstabbed if someone in your inner circle alerts you, or if you notice your close business relationships eroding for seemingly no reason.

The Fight: It is tempting to bad-mouth this woman to others, and to confront her. Avoid these techniques. A backstabber, when confronted, will often respond with a comment along the lines of, “it’s just business.”

Unite: Your best hope is “harm reduction.” Wage a PR campaign for yourself, and enlist your supporters. Be in as many places with this person as you can, in order to correct misconceptions about yourself. Trust that once caught, she will move on to someone else—you don’t have to say anything at all. As a manager, you can and should call a saboteur on her behavior.

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The Pedestal Smasher: This person uses words to build you up and then tear you down. She appears polished, is well-respected, and initially praises you. She may say that you are the “answer to her problems.” As the relationship progresses, she will express disappointment that you did not live up to her expectations. Eventually you will feel that you can’t do anything right. This person is insecure, and you will never be the hero that she claimed you would be.

The Fight: You may feel compelled to work hard to get back on the pedestal, complain when you feel that you can’t do anything right, and compete with others to win back favor from this person. These techniques won’t solve the problem, and will only cause you more frustration.

Unite: Although it feels counterintuitive, you must stop seeking approval from this person. Do as well as you can at your job, seek a cordial, professional relationship, and detach from this person. Recognize that the pedestal has a revolving door, and soon someone else will be in your position.

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The Easily Threatened: This person uses words to minimize your success and make you look bad. She will have an adverse reaction to your success, may seem to dislike you, and will seem incapable of complimenting you.

The Fight: Your instinct will be to fight back or confront her.

Unite: Accept that, because she is insecure, she is unable to support your success. If you can, share credit with her to help ease her pain. Compliment her to even the field. Remember: don’t take it personally, aim for the high road, and don’t get caught in a power struggle.

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Women have a hard time dealing with hierarchy and power tiers, and are therefore more likely than men to find themselves in uncomfortable situations at work. At some point, every woman will find herself faced with a competitive woman at work. When this happens to you, calm yourself, and create a strategy.

Have you ever faced one of these types of competitive women at work? What did you do to handle the situation?