Taming the Mean Girls At Work: 11 Empowering Tips

Taming the Mean Girls At Work: 15 Empowering TipsGet empowering tips for outsmarting and taming mean girls at work so you enjoy a more positive office environment and better productivity.

Navigating office politics can sometimes feel like playing chess with pigeons. You might be playing by the rules, but they’re just knocking over the pieces.

This complaint often comes up when dealing with “mean girls” at the office.

A reader reached out about this very topic.

She said in an email to me: “I have my own squad of mean girls at work. They’ve been there for years – a smaller health  care facility – I’m the new kid on the block – with years under my belt in the same industry & larger facilities- maybe with more resources to expand technologies  to do the job smarter not harder   When I try to suggest a different way or ask questions it’s perceived as challenging because ‘we’ve always done it this way.’ What the fa-heck ?” 

I gotta say, I get where this reader is coming from! So, I thought today we’d dive into the thorny world of “mean girls at work.”

If you’re new to my site, hi there. I’m a leading behavioral change expert and recognized expert executive coach for the last few decades.

I love to help individuals and companies move through challenges and emerge with greater fulfillment, productivity and happiness.  With this in mind, I founded the bestselling online program “The Manage and Avoid Drama Llamas Course.”

11 Empowering Tips For Taming the Mean Girls At Work

Below are a wide range of empowering tips for how to deal with and tame mean girls in the workplace.

Pssst….If you have something you’re presently struggling with, send me an email via my contact page, and I might choose to write a blog article response to help you (always in an anonymous way).

1. Make A Compliment Sandwich

Create a compliment sandwich and serve it to the mean girl! Meaning? Start with something positive about the person, insert your complaint, then top it off with another positive note. It’s like hiding veggies in a kid’s meal.

I created a helpful Youtube video about Compliment Sandwiches.

2. Build Bridges, Not Walls

You’ve got experience and fresh perspectives — great!

Now, it’s all about delivery.

Present your ideas as enhancements –  not replacements.

It’s like suggesting a new spice for the office potluck stew, not throwing out the whole pot.

Build bridges with your words, showing how your experience can be a resource, not a threat.

3. Use Typecasting Strategies (Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster – “Mean Girls at Work”)

Taming the Mean Girls At Work: 15 Empowering TipsKatherine Crowley and Kathi Elster’s work can help you in typecasting strategies. Once you identify which mean girl archetype you’re dealing with, tailor your approach.

Spot the Blocker:

This is the person who always seems to say “no” or “that won’t work” whenever you bring up a new idea. They’re not really into change, and it seems like they just enjoy sticking to the old ways for no good reason.

  • Example: You suggest using a new filing system, and they immediately shut it down with, “Our system has worked fine for 10 years.”
  • Response: “I get that we’ve been using the same system for a long time, and it’s been reliable. I just think this new filing system could really save us time and hassle. Maybe we can try a small test of it and see if it makes a difference? I’m sure if it doesn’t work out, no harm done – we can stick to the old way. What do you think?”

Watch for the Backhander:

Backhanders are sneaky. They give you a compliment that doesn’t feel quite right, like there’s a little jab hidden in it.

  • Example: You present a project you’ve worked hard on, and they say, “Oh, you did this all by yourself? I’m surprised it looks so professional!”
  • Response: “Thanks for noticing the project! I did put a lot of effort into it. It’s good to hear it looks professional. If you have any specific feedback or suggestions, I’m open to hearing them. Always looking to improve!”

Identify the Gossip:

This one loves to chat, but not about nice things. They spread rumors and can be pretty mean with their words.

  • Example: You overhear them telling someone that you only got your job because the boss likes you, not because you’re qualified.
  • Response: “I overheard what was said, and it’s important for me to work in a place where we all respect each other. I got my job based on my qualifications and hard work. If you have any concerns about my work, let’s talk about it directly.”

Beware of the Spotlight Stealer:

They crave attention and will do anything to keep the spotlight on them, including taking credit for your ideas.

  • Example: You come up with a great idea in a meeting, and later you hear them telling the boss it was their idea.
  • Response: “I noticed that you mentioned my idea in the meeting with the boss as your own. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but I feel it’s important to have our contributions recognized correctly. In the future, I’d appreciate it if we could present our ideas together or acknowledge each other’s contributions. It’s important for our team’s morale.”

4. Show Genuine Interest (Dale Carnegie – “How to Win Friends and Influence People”)

Dale Carnegie advised that the way to influence others is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it. For our reader facing resistance from the mean girls at work, this means framing her suggestions in a way that aligns with their interests.

For example, when proposing a new technology or process,  highlight how it could make their tasks easier or improve patient care in the facility, which is something they might care deeply about.

By connecting the mean girl’s ideas to their interests, you’re more likely to break through the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset and be perceived as a collaborator rather than a challenger.

5. The Art of War: Choose Your Battles Wisely (Sun Tzu)

Sun Tzu’s ancient wisdom reminds us to “choose your battles wisely.” Not every hill is worth dying on, especially when you’re new.

Assess the landscape, understand the dynamics, and pick the moments where your input can have the most impact.

Sometimes, the most powerful move is knowing when to hold back.

6. Limit Exposure (Robert Sutton – “The No Asshole Rule”)

quote heal heart toxic everythingRobert Sutton’s advice is pertinent when dealing with mean girls; limit your exposure to them.

While it’s not always possible to avoid them completely, especially in a smaller facility, you can take strategic steps to protect your peace.

If they’re lurking by the water cooler, fill your bottle at the tap in the break room.

Work on projects in quiet, communal spaces if possible or pop in some headphones.

Small adjustments to your routine can significantly reduce negative interactions.

7. Lead by Example (Dr. Christine Porath – “Mastering Civility”)

Dr. Christine Porath champions civility and leading by example. It’s about embodying the professionalism and respect you’d like to see in your workplace.

When the mean girls go low, you go high.

Always address them with the respect and kindness that everyone deserves, regardless of how they treat you. This isn’t just about taking the high road. It’s about setting a standard and not letting anyone else’s behavior dictate your own.

8. Understand Their Vulnerabilities (Amy Gallo – Harvard Business Review)

Try to understand the “why” behind the mean girl’s behavior. Amy Gallo suggests understanding the mean girl’s vulnerabilities. Keep in mind that they might not be acting out of meanness – just insecurity. For example, if a colleague dismisses your ideas, it might be due to their not feeling secure in their job or their intelligence. Address the behavior professionally, and season in a little empathy for their vulnerabilities.

9. Behavioral Patterns (Dr. Meredith Fuller – “Working with Bitches”)

Understand behavioral patterns. If a mean girl at work is always criticizing in meetings, prepare your responses in advance. Or find ways to present your ideas when they’re not around.

10. The 48 Laws of Power: Conceal Your Intentions (Robert Greene)

Here, Greene’s guidance on concealing intentions is less about deception ….and more about strategic communication.

When you’re introducing a new concept, do it subtly.

  • Pose it as a natural extension of current practices – rather than a revolutionary change.

This can be especially effective in meetings where resistance to new ideas is high.

11. Find Your Allies

In every group, there’s usually someone who’s more open to change. Find them.

They are your foothold, your base camp as you climb Mount Change-Resistance.

Once you’ve got one person nodding along, others might just start to follow.

Recap: Tips for Taming Mean Girls at Work

Navigating a clique can be draining. Remember to stay true to your values and professionalism. You’re not there to win a popularity contest. You’re there to contribute positively.

Sometimes, the best strategy is to do your job well, with kindness and resilience.

And be sure to take care of yourself. Prioritize your well-being  – whether it’s through meditation, exercise, or a hobby. Make sure you have an outlet for stress.

If you’d like more support to move through a challenging situation, book a free Mindset Mastery consultation here to see how I might help.

Think happier. Think calmer.

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