How to Handle Mean Girls at Work

Workplace incivility is most often instigated by an employee's female coworkers, according to a University of Arizona study published in the December 2017 issue of the ​Journal of Applied Psychology​. Mean-spirited behavior includes vicious gossip, angry criticism, insults directed at one or more people, subtle digs – such as comments that could be interpreted as insincere or sarcastic – or yelling at someone for the purpose of intimidation. The way you deal with mean girls at work depends on the type of behavior you experience.

Criticism or Intimidation

Stand your ground when a co-worker angrily criticizes your work or tries to intimidate you by yelling. Allow the mean girl to vent. Stand with one foot in front of the other and look directly into her eyes and listen. Do not show any emotion on your face. Do not blink or flutter your eyelashes while listening to what she has to say.

When she finishes criticizing you or venting, calmly repeat her concerns to make sure you understand. Offer a solution or tell her that you'll devise a solution and get back her as soon as possible. By not being defensive, you are demonstrating your willingness to work as a team player to resolve your differences. Refuse to be baited into an argument that will only escalate the situation.

Gossip or Backstabbing

Approach the mean girl when she's alone. Tell her that you don't appreciate her behavior. Be specific, firm and polite. Use "I" statements instead of "You" statements to avoid provoking aggression from your co-worker. For example, say, "I know our boss thinks that I don't contribute during team meetings. You and I both know that I contribute many of the ideas we use, but I never receive credit for them. Stop taking credit for my ideas, or else I'll make a formal complaint." Walk away after you've made your statement. Do not engage with her on any level – no matter what she says.

Document Your Interactions

Get into the habit of documenting your actions with mean-spirited co-workers, suggests Everyday Health. Document the date, time, location and a summary of what occurred. Write down the names of any witnesses and ask them – in confidence – if they are willing to act as a witness on your behalf. Keep any notes or emails that you receive from the person. Documentation of mean girl behavior at work, even petty slights, will strengthen your case if you decide to present it to your supervisor or human resources department.

Seek Help

When subjected to mean girl behavior at work, review the company's policy for dealing with inappropriate behavior. Remember that the human resources department works for the company that employs you. Be careful when presenting information, especially if the person who is being mean to you is well-respected or liked. An alternative is to consult a trusted mentor or a legal advocate who specializes in inappropriate behavior in the workplace, such as bullying. Weigh options for ignoring mean girl behavior at work, directly confronting it, involving your supervisor, or filing a formal complaint with management.