Mean Girl?

I was going to title this “Someone at work hates me” but hate is probably too strong a word.  It’s more of an “active dislike”.  Using the term “mean girl” is probably also an exaggeration since her actions are not preventing me from joining a clique or making my life hell in any way.  The reason I’m even writing about it is because I can’t figure out why this woman dislikes me so much and it’s a source of personal amusement.

Every single time I walk into the break or lunch area, she will switch her conversation to Spanish (of course only if the other person also speaks Spanish).  At first I thought I was paranoid but once I started paying attention, she did this 100% of the time, especially if she’s talking to her work BFF.  I understand if they’re talking about private matters, even though I really don’t care if she had a fight with her husband or how her kid is doing in school etc.., but sometimes they’re talking about a clothing sale or a TV show and this girl will switch to Spanish!  Her poor BFF usually switches to Spanish but still may throw in some English.   I also noticed that other people might be in the lunch room but she doesn’t switch languages until I walk in.

When I used to greet this woman in the hallways, she would give me a stony glance at best.  She couldn’t even manage to respond with a lukewarm smile!  Ok, some of the higher-ups don’t always respond but she is the only person at our company who has completely ignored my greetings every single time.  I have seen her smiling and joking with others but she can’t even manage a polite greeting with me.

This woman and I don’t work together on a regular basis (or really at all as far as I can remember), so unless something I did something when I first started at this company long ago and made her job difficult, I don’t see how or why she can hold such a long grudge.

I’ve never talked about her to anyone in my office so she can’t have overheard something I said.  Maybe someone lied and told her I said something mean about her? Maybe I called her by the wrong name? Maybe I was talking about a political or societal issue or TV show and she vehemently disagreed and has held it against me ever since?

However, this mystery is one that I’ll never solve because frankly I don’t care and her attitude doesn’t affect me on a daily basis.  I haven’t mentioned this to anyone at work and I don’t want to start investigating the cause as I’m sure it’s something petty and happened years ago.

Have you ever experienced something similar at your work?  Have you had a true “mean girl” experience at work or school? Were you the mean one or the one who was ostracized? 

I will confess now that I once excluded a colleague in a mean girl sort of way.  This summary is a bit simplistic because our work clique was nowhere as tight or mean as it would be in a school situation and I’m not sure I can sum up everything in two paragraphs.  It was just interesting for me because I had never been “in” enough to experience the mechanics of clique-dom.

At my last job, a new hire tried her best to join our little group.   It was very obvious that it was a bit painful to watch or experience.  She kissed up to everyone but mostly to the prettiest one in our group, who would naturally be seen as the “top dog” from an outsider perspective.   I wasn’t super nice to her and excluded her from time to time, but only if I had a good reason (like wanting to have one-on-one time or having something private to say) but I could sometimes tell she was hurt by the exclusion.  Anyway, eventually this woman did become good friends with one woman in the group and they splintered off into their own clique.  We remained on fairly friendly terms despite my initial annoyance with her;  after all we were all there to work, not gossip and form friendships.

Note: I had this post scheduled and then changed my mind, thinking this situation might be all in my mind. Then just yesterday, I passed by this woman in the hallway and she pretty much glared at me, so I’m publishing as is.  

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13 responses to “Mean Girl?

  1. I respect you for publishing this post and putting yourself out there in an admirably vulnerable way. Not too many people can face up to it when they’ve purposely treated someone badly. Good for you for exploring your own motives. And by the way, it’s ok if your feelings eventually shift from “I don’t care” into feeling genuinely hurt and perplexed by your coworker who is doing the excluding – really, how can that feel good long term?

    As for solutions (not that you asked!) – at work and usually in my personal life (but not always bc sometimes I chicken out or decide the person deals too much in denial to handle any sort of reality-based feedback), I choose to be politely assertive and tell people when they’ve crossed a boundary with me, but I also welcome feedback from them to hear how I’ve messed up. If you are the kind of person who can tolerate tough feedback then I suggest the following type of conversation in person privately, or on the phone (not via email or text – duh):

    “Hi so and so, excuse me – this is awkward; but I’ve noticed over time that when I say hello to you, I see you ignore me and look away (describe behaviors you see). I can’t help but wonder if I’ve done something to offend you in the past? If so, I’d like you to give me the opportunity to apologize to you and to get back in your good graces again because I’d like us to at least have a respectful working relationship together, even if I’m not your favorite person ever. Thanks for hearing me out.”

    There’s a great book I read ages ago (actually HR at my former corporate employer had the author come speak at a women’s seminar, she was excellent) called “Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry” by Susan Shapiro Barash – the anecdotes in it were like yours, somewhat painful to read but powerful, especially for someone like me who can’t abide when women tear each other down. Highly recommend for any woman who wants to conduct business in a healthier manner.

    • Advice is alway welcomed! I tend to think women in general should form a solid bond, but of course we’re individuals and may or may not click in meaningful ways. I guess I assume some kind of common ground first and it’s strange for me that some women see other women as rivals first.

  2. YES. One of our secretaries was doing this kind of crap to me. My mom told me that she would eventually get fired for doing something similar to someone who had more power, and she DID.

    • Oh, and hush gives great advice– the black guy (race, gender, and rank definitely mattered with her) in our dept did exactly what hush is suggesting and the woman backed down with him. I was about to address the issue directly, but word got back to the bitch that I had a problem with her, and she had her supervisor have a meeting with her and me, and instead I got to list out all the small petty things she was doing (crossing out my office supplies instead of ordering them, hiding waters so students couldn’t get them and handing them to the faculty in front of me and behind me but making me bend down to get one, loudly reminding me only two pieces of pizza at lunches etc– btw, there was no reason for there to be a limit, she just made that up.) in front of her supervisor… which probably bit her in the butt.

      I’d also been keeping track because my mom told me to. Individually each thing made me sound paranoid, but taken all together it was pretty clear there was a pattern.

      • A friend of mine is going through a similar thing involving a department head’s secretary. There was definitely some kind of power tripping going on, too, as if she has to assert what little power she has to make my friend miserable.

      • My mom says it’s pretty common, and the secretary picks on the most vulnerable. But my mom was right that I wasn’t the only person this was happening to (my mother is *always* right), and eventually she tried to bully the wrong person. So I distanced myself and she left in a huge whirlwind of controversy and inappropriate emails. Her replacement has been awesome and professional and always orders my office supplies whether she thinks I need more whiteboard markers or not. And there’s no power-tripping over pizza and water. (And no embezzling pizza either– there used to be several pizzas leftover after lunch talks that she would give to the maintenance staff and take home herself. Yes, the maintenance staff probably needs the pizza more than the students, but the department shouldn’t be ordering pizzas it doesn’t need either.)

      • Thanks @nicoleandmaggie. Your system of documenting abuses in order to see the pattern is genius.

  3. I have only been in my new job for a little over three months and am acutely aware or workplace poltics and cliques etc. I liken it to being a late arrival on Survivor. I think that there is a whole series of unwritten workplace rules that we are never told about and that we have to muddle through trying not to offend or step on peoples toe’s….this can be impossible at times! Perhaps you ruffled her feathers in someway and you may never know why. I am like you and don’t like confronting such issues. I have a friend that would always confront these things but is always told “no there is nothing wrong”, when in fact she knows there is. What’s the point? If I had a mutual friend,(to you and mean girl), I might try to subtly find something out, otherwise I am like and would just avoid her when I could and be polite when you come into contact with her. Funny, you think that this sort of stuff would finish in school, but no I think we have to come across “mean girls” for life.

    • Love the “late arrival on Survivor” comparison!

      In this case, unlike the secretary mentioned by N&M, this mean girl doesn’t affect me at all; in fact, I think she’s probably even more bothered that she can’t get to me or affect me!

    • “I have a friend that would always confront these things but is always told “no there is nothing wrong”, when in fact she knows there is. What’s the point?”

      Great question. I think people (esp. those who are super uncomfortable with tough conversations of any kind) often have totally unrealistic expectations of what the person being addressed needs to say in response in order for that conversation to have been a “win,” or to have had any point at all, or to have made any sort of difference. No. A confrontation is never going to end like an episode of Law and Order where the jerk breaks down on the witness stand into a tearful confession, and fully admits all wrongdoing (apologies to Dick Wolf).

      It’s not about what the jerk being called on their behavior says or doesn’t say in the heat of the moment (of course passive aggressive jerks are going to lie when called out – that’s why it’s called *passive* aggressive). It’s about standing up for your own personal dignity, and doing your own boundary work – because nobody else will do it for you. Picking your battles is an art, yes; however, I think most people under communicate in response to workplace jerkiness, hence they keep getting treated like dirt.

  4. Yes Hush very true. We teach others how we are willing to be treated and that includes teaching them that we are ok with being treated poorly. I guess the key is being brave enough to front these things, if you really feel it is necessary, and being wise enough to do it in a way that ends with more of a positive rather than negative affect. I suppose each instance needs to be addressed accordingly, some can be left to ride themselves out and sometimes we must make a stand.

  5. I definitely think in general, it’s very important to stand up for yourself. I also think we have to choose our battles and as Michelle noted, it can be tricky to figure out when it’s necessary. I’m not actually afraid of confrontations when I believe that I’m being mistreated or if I’m just angry. In this case, she has zero power to affect me and she’s not a powerful person in the company who could secretly hurt my career either.

  6. Yeah, I’ve had this something like this issue over the years w/a few special people and they’re relatively easy for me to shrug off but it’s probably because I will “ignore” anyone I don’t work with. In a work setting, I’m a bit of a hermit naturally and don’t tend to socialize, I just work so must admit that someone starting crap for no reason in the workplace using the silent treatment is more likely to make me laugh accidentally/perversely because I hate talking to people as it is. D’you really think that NOT talking to me is punishment? (Of course they would think so because I pretend to be social at work….)

    But much more often, I’ve found more insidious people who know how to mask their dislike and work to undermine you just because it’s in their nature. The latter, I find, are much more problematic and is as practiced by men as well as women. I have, in the past, avoided or excluded the specific people who have actively worked to undermine me (ie: starting malicious rumors or attributing lies to me that would cost people their jobs), there’s absolutely no reason I’d invite or include that poison in my work or personal life.

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