Truth be told, being a woman in the business world is difficult. We’re often seen as emotional and bossy, not to mention considered “risky hires” if we’re anywhere close to childbearing years. With time we all build a thick skin to inequality, but there’s one thing we can never escape….other women. No, not being the other woman. Let me explain.
Being part of a tribe is in human nature. Sure, a few lone wolves slip through the cracks, but for the most part we thrive as a group. Women can get away with not knowing their neighbors or making friends in spin class, but the workplace is a whole different animal. We spend most of our waking hours in the office. These people have the power to make your life miserable, so you have to play your cards right. Otherwise your life may become like a Mean Girls sequel. Seriously, your toxic coworker may ruin your career before it even begins.
What are the warning signs of a toxic coworker?
I have a bone to pick with Disney. You cannot recognize evil by someone’s laughter, outfit, or looks. It appears in the most unexpected places, like your neighboring cubicle. Here are some signs that your coworker is a bad apple and you need to stay away (but remain in her good graces.)
- Constantly complaining. I’m not talking about the occasional gripe about the air conditioner or losing a pen. More like whining about clients or the way things are done in your office.
- Spreading gossip. Water coolers are meant for chatting about the weather, not gabbing about what someone said in a meeting.
- Two-faced tendencies. One moment she’s whining about micromanagement on a project, the next she’s handing a latte to the manager they spent all morning talking about.
- Constant distraction. Are you having difficulty getting your work done because a certain someone keeps dropping by your cubicle to chat or constantly poking you about personal things on your work chat? Seriously, you have 100 things to do besides let a coworker know how your weekend was.
- Believes in strength in numbers. One is the loneliest number, so that’s why toxic employees often rally the troops for support. And by rally, I mean launch a fear campaign. According to a 2014 study, 27% of American workers have been bullied at work. While only 31% of the bullies are women, 68% of them choose other females as their targets.
How to maintain your composure and handle sticky situations like a true boss lady
The best bet of survival is to be adopted into the “girl gang.” But that doesn’t mean getting chummy with the enemy. Here’s how to protect your job and yourself from the queen bee’s wrath.
When asked personal questions
Whether they’re asking you about your weekend or intimate details about your love life, keep it short, sweet, and vague. The last thing you want is for the whole office to know what you did last summer. You’re already privy to gossip only HR should know about, what makes your secrets any different?
When asked to hang out during work hours
Try as you might to ignore her, you’ll be bombarded with coffee run invites and lunch requests. Switch up your schedule so that you eat lunch at an opposite time, at your desk, or disappear to the gym. On days that seem impossible to escape her demands, make sure you’re not in this alone.
When asked to hang out outside of work
Making friends in adulthood is difficult, so it might be tempting to grab a drink or head over to her place after work one night. But put your foot down and say no. What might start as a harmless happy hour may end up you getting involved with a plot to overthrow the current meeting agenda structure. Politely say thank you but maybe another time.
When she requests you on social media.
While social media is for all the world to see, there are some things I don’t want my coworkers to know. I’m not ashamed of the taco I instagramed last weekend, but I want to keep my professional and personal life separate. If she persists on asking you why you haven’t accepted her invitation, change the subject to LinkedIn…and make a mental note to change the privacy settings of all your social channels when you get home.
- Have you ever had to deal with a crazy coworker?
- What’s your best tip on how to deal with the queen bee of the office?