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Meredith Fuller

Is There a Bitch in Your Workplace?

Occasionally you may unexpectedly come across a bitch at work.

Most professional women are too busy working long and hard to even contemplate the question. We don’t expect to come across any and we certainly don’t look for them, so how could we tell?

Initially, we can’t believe that someone is being bitchy and tend to assume that we have misread the situation. Why would another women want to humiliate us in a meeting, sabotage our career, or play silly games to destabilize us?

We give her the benefit of doubt, and may blame ourselves for the misunderstanding and work even harder at communicating. When that doesn’t work, we tend to blame ourselves as we struggle to cope with the interpersonal difficulty.

We don’t wish to betray the sisterhood, or draw attention to our vulnerability, lack of coolness, or internal resources. If we try to tell friends and family, they may try to problem solve by offering simplistic retorts we could never utter, or snort with derision at our silly paranoia.

We tend to remain silent — it is embarrassing and shameful to acknowledge that we’re allowing someone to upset us, or that we are helpless at trying to resolve it. Perhaps we are concerned about retaining our job, and swallow our distress.

Secretly, we wonder whether we are weak and pathetic; other women seem to take it in their stride or fail to notice. We must be overly sensitive. Maybe we lack political or strategic prowess — yet another failing. We witness our career prospects wither as our naivety or niceness renders us powerless.

A number of women I see in my private practice describe similar stages:

1. Incredulity. They cannot believe that another woman could be nasty to them. They surmise that there must be a miscommunication, misunderstanding, or lack of skill — it must be their fault or perhaps there is something wrong with them. They may be re-triggered with primary school memories of popular in-group girls who excluded them or taunts hurled across the playground.

2. Numbness. They work even harder, and trudge on.

3. Exhaustion. They may dread going to work, and worry about their reputation and career being eroded. They find it increasingly difficult to "switch off" and worry after hours. They lose their work satisfaction, and struggle to manage their workload.

4. Cynicism. They feel hurt and betrayed. They drag themselves through their work day and ruminate each night. Their creativity and joy is compromised.

My concern led to my writing a book where I identified eight types of bitches and methods for well mannered, non-gamey women to cope with managers, colleagues, or staff.

I’ll explore some of my research with 2,000 women in future postings. For now, here are a few basic strategies for coping with a nasty manager at work.

If your manager is a destructive bitch ...

Never be alone with her for important exchanges. She will lie in the form of "not remembering" what you remember about what was decided.

Transparency is your weapon because secrecy is hers. If you find yourself shafted by her in a meeting, say sweetly in front of colleagues, “I am really confused that you said that, because I thought we had agreed that this and this was happening. Can you help me understand what has happened here?

Counter her attempts to undermine by dividing and conquering and working individuals very hard, by talking to colleagues and finding support. Don’t allow yourself to be isolated by self-doubt.

Be protective of your privacy. Make sure not to leave your work screen open because she will look over your shoulder and her eyes will ‘vacuum’ your desk.

Stay calm. Many staffers who must answer to destructive managers tolerate ill treatment for months and then explode over something minor. She will turn this into evidence of your emotional instability.

Protect yourself with records. Write confirming emails after verbal exchanges and cc others; always print out and keep hard copies of communications.