Career HR & Training

Warning: Mean Girls At Work In Healthcare

Guest post by Katherine Crowley, co-author of Mean Girls at Work

The nursing field has long been aware of an issue that many other industries are just waking up to — the power of woman-to-woman relationships. When nurses help each other, it literally saves lives. But when they clash with each other, it causes extreme pain for all parties involved. There’s an unfortunate old saying among nurses: “We eat our young.”

In Mean Girls at Work – How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal, we recognize the fact that many women have a hard time reconciling two conflicting desires within them: The desire to compete for raises, promotions, and recognition versus the desire to connect by making friends with other women at work.

These dual desires – competing versus connecting – often lead to acts of covert competition between women.

Covert competition among nurses could involve an established nurse not informing her younger coworker when hospital protocol changes. Or, it could entail a managing nurse excluding another nurse from an important meeting.  Covert competition could cause a senior nurse to harshly criticize a junior nurse in front of her peers. These indirect acts of aggression feel deeply personal to the women on the receiving end.

Our process for dealing with woman-to-woman competition at work is called, “Don’t Go There.” It encourages any woman who feels attacked by her female colleague to pause, cool off, and refrain from attacking back.

We acknowledge that you may feel angry, betrayed, duped, or embarrassed when another woman does or says something that feels hurtful.  You may want to gossip about her, roll your eyes when she speaks, or give her the cold shoulder.  But your power lies in finding a professional response to her petty behavior.  By learning concrete ways to neutralize interactions with a Mean Girl, female medical professionals can avoid power struggles with other women, and propel their careers forward.

Katherine Crowley is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist and Kathi Elster is a management consultant and executive coach. They run K Squared Enterprises a training firm that helps clients manage difficult situa­tions in the workplace.

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