Mean Girls in the Workplace

I tripped across another little gem in my blog reading this week, published in the Harvard Business Review. While they publish much which is good, I choked on this paragraph:

“2. Co-Create New Rules of Engagement. When managers share the process of defining new expectations, they create foster both individual and collective ownership of the problem. “Organizations function best when committed people work in cooperative relationships based on respect,” as Henry Mintzberg has written. “Commitment becomes contagious when people realize its immense benefits not only to the organization but to themselves.””

I really have no idea what this means, or what I’m supposed to do with it. If I step back and think about it, I’m not even sure what the author means by “mean girls”. “Mean” is a judgment, not a behaviour. We can give feedback on behaviours, but the judgement is ours to own.

When we tell one of our staff that they’re mean, or a jerk, or gossiping, what’s their reaction going to be?

“No I’m not.”

. . . and they’re right. Them being a jerk is your conclusion after observing their behaviour. You can go back and forth all day playing the “Yes you did – no I didn’t game” if you want. Not the best use of your time though.

My recommendation is to focus on the behaviour when giving feedback. The things that people do is behaviour. Behaviour is the stuff you can see, hear, and feel. It’s the words we use, the tone of voice, our facial expression, our body language, and our work product. What you saw is fact, not a conclusion that you drew from observed behaviour. It can’t be argued with. What does being a bully, a jerk, or a gossip look like? Describe that behaviour in concrete terms.

We can then describe the consequences, and then get a commitment  to behave differently in the future. Consequences is where the judgment comes in if needed. For example: “Jeff, when we’re in a customer meeting and you roll your eyes, put your hands behind your head, lean back in your chair, and exclaim in a loud voice “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard”, it makes you look like a jerk. Can you stop doing that? “


**many thanks to the Manager Tools Podcast for setting my feet on the path of righteousness on this issue.

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One response to “Mean Girls in the Workplace

  1. Pingback: What Employees Want | Practical Managers

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