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VOL. 37 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 25, 2013

Mean Girls: Post-graduate cruelty

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Seventh Grade was a long time ago.

Years ago, as a matter of fact, but the sting is still there: acne, boys, angst, drama, puberty, having one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood, and teasing from cliques and Mean Girls.

Argh. That last one stings most of all.

You thought you left junior high behind. So how did you end up back there when you landed your dream job? In the new book, “Mean Girls at Work” by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, you’ll find out and you’ll learn how to deal with it this time.

Logically, you want it to be true: women support one another in the workplace and celebrate each other’s success. We embrace sisterhood, fight glass ceilings together and all that.

You want it to be true. But you know better.

When the authors of this book were asked to give a seminar on “women haters” in the workplace, they reluctantly agreed and were surprised to find a “room full of transfixed professional women.” The issue, they quickly learned, was big - a real problem. They also learned through subsequent research that, generally speaking, mean girls are cruel “workplace bullies” determined to take other women down, and there are several levels of meanness.

Mean Girls at Work

by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster

c.2013, McGraw Hill

$24

188 pages

The meanest of the mean girls think they have to be that way to survive. To them, other women should be “eliminated” from the workplace. Very mean girls are tough, insecure and quick to jealousy. Passively mean ones are those who “accidentally” forget to tell you about that important meeting.

Then there are women who don’t mean to be mean, those who don’t know they’re being mean, and the ones who make you want to be mean yourself.

So, aside from crying in your cubicle, what can you do about mean girls at work?

“Don’t Go There,” say the authors in each chapter. There are things you shouldn’t do, and lots of things you should, including that, sometimes, you can’t win. Keep a “cool distance” from toxic co-workers. Don’t take mean words to heart. Understand that Mean Girls are inherently unhappy with themselves.

And if all else fails, sharpen up that resume. You’ll need it.

Adolescence was hard and you were glad to leave it behind. Who knew you’d have to revisit it? Who knew you’d need a book like “Mean Girls at Work”?

Sadly, authors Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster knew you would. Their research shows that meanness rears its ugly head in nearly every office so, though their counsel is somewhat one-size-fits-all, it’s timely. I appreciated guidance on taking the high road by avoiding tempting reactions, and their advice on when to turn the situation over to a higher office power is exceptionally helpful.

Yes, it can be argued that this book is commonsensical, but I think that if you’re a recent college grad, just got promoted, or you’re starting a second career, it’ll be helpful nonetheless. If that’s you, then find this book because you’ll find “Mean Girls at Work” to be grade-A.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.

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