We’ve all heard the phrase “one bad apple ruins the whole bunch.” It’s a phrase that runs true in the workplace. It often only takes one impossible employee to undermine the team, erode the company culture, and drive away key talent. In many workplaces that bad apple is an insecure woman whose bad attitude, gossiping, and other antics negatively, and significantly impact the business.
Insecure women are ruining the workplace in the following ways:
They Undermine The Professional Value and Achievements of All Women
Insecure women give all women a bad rap. It’s unfair, but their behavior often becomes a stereotype that other women have to shake loose, especially when confident women find themselves the target of an insecure woman. I have seen many businesses adopt the “women can’t get along in the workplace” mantra, and in essence condone and perpetuate the behavior.
They Take Time Away From Critical Tasks And Value Generating Functions
Insecure women are major distractions for companies. If left unchecked they can quickly become a black hole of productivity, sucking energy out of the business and distracting management from other important tasks and goals.
They Lower Morale and Employee Engagement
Toxic behavior spreads like disease. Sigal Barsade calls this phenomenon “emotional contagion”. Once infected a teams performance drops, in some cases as much as 40% according to a Wharton study shared in this recent Inc. article on toxic employees. Once infected it takes a great deal of time, investment, and energy to reenergize the team. The long-term costs are a very real loss in dollars.
They Drive Away Talent, Especially Female Talent
Top talent in both sexes get equally fed up with toxic work place behavior and will actively look for (and find) employment with firms with better cultures and management. Female talent is usually the main target for insecure women. They quickly become a major burden to your best female employees. Many firms are already facing a talent shortage and paying high premiums to secure talent. The loss of talent has significant costs. According to the Inc. article “How Much Employee Turnover Really Costs You,” some of the costs associated with losing a valued employee include loss of knowledge, costs for searching for and onboarding replacements, and overworked staff, among others.
Although they are a challenge, companies and peers can proactively work to minimize and eliminate the effects these women have on companies.
What to do if you are the target of an insecure woman
As mentioned earlier, insecure women tend to target other women in the firm. Whether you are a man or a woman, she doesn’t have to become a roadblock to your success. Instead here are a few guidelines you can follow if you find yourself the target of an insecure woman.
Don’t Take It Personally
When an insecure woman attacks you its because she is threatened by you, but don’t take it personal. As Success Magazine Editor Emma Johnson stated in the March 2017 issue, “Cruel words, destructive behavior and thoughtless actions all stem from a dark place in the other person.” Anyone who aggravates or shines light on that dark place becomes a target, no matter what their gender or role is in the company.
Do Empathize With Her
Instead of blaming or accusing the other person, Emma Johnson suggests empathizing with the other person. They are acting out, and instead of holding their negative actions in your heart, let go so you can act professionally and proactively instead of reacting emotionally. Which brings up the next point . . .
Engaging at her level will only bring you down and take the focus away from her bad behavior and onto yours. It may be satisfying in the short run to fling that verbal jab or to throw her under the bus in the next meeting, but your long-term goal is to stop the behavior and protect your career. Don’t lose sight of that goal. Instead . . .
Do Inform Your Superior
Do tell a superior about any unprofessional behavior, but do so objectively and with a focus on its impact on the company, not you personally. Focusing on how the behavior negatively impacts the company keeps it from looking like a personal squabble. Also, don’t “tattle tell” every time she gets out of line, other wise you start to look like you have a personal vendetta. Instead, inform your supervisor of major infractions, especially those in front of coworkers or clients. Do keep a written account of all infractions though, regardless of importance, should the need arise to demonstrate cause for corrective action or termination.
Don’t Try And Pit Other Colleagues Against Her
When we feel attacked its natural to want to protect yourself and to go in search of the proverbial “strength in numbers” by rallying colleagues around you—and against her. This approach backfires every time. Instead . . .
Do Build A Support Network Around You
Even if you didn’t have a target on your back, it’s smart as a professional building a career to find allies and develop a support network around you. Do this by building relationships with as many people as possible, not just the higher ups, and do it by seeking first to provide value to your network. This way when you do need them to rally around you, they will want to have your back and can honestly say that you have acted with integrity and professionalism throughout.
Whatever you do don’t hide. Don’t avoid her, don’t avoid her network, and don’t avoid events you know she will be at. If you do, she effectively wins and is allowed to continue her bad behavior and target the next person. The more you stay present and professional, the more she will push, and eventually go too far and make a public display or send an inappropriate email giving you valid proof of the bad behavior (which you then take to your superior—don’t handle it on your own).
Do Try and Build a Positive Relationship with Her
If she is someone you have to work with, especially if she is on your immediate team, its best to try and build a positive working relationship wither, whether she reciprocates or not. You don’t have to go over board and become her friend and bribe her with treats, but you do need to be professional and supportive. This has one of two possible outcomes. One, she finally comes to her senses and stops or two; others see that you have conducted yourself professionally and she is holding a grudge. Either way your reputation stays clean.
What to do if you are a supervisor
If you are a supervisor dealing with an insecure woman you know it can be a landmine of potential lawsuits, internal turmoil, and more. However, as we discussed, the cost of ignoring it is much worse. You can tackle this issue and protect the company at the same time. Here’s how:
Don’t Ignore or Dismiss the Behavior
The absolute worst thing any manager can do is let the behavior continue. Avoiding it is the same as condoning the behavior. The more it continues the worse it gets until you suddenly have a major problem on your hands.
Do Address It Immediately and Directly
Instead be proactive and address the behavior immediately and directly—not forcefully-but in a firm and straightforward manner that eliminates any ambiguity. We will share more on how to do this in a moment.
Don’t Make It About Gender
Leave gender out of the equation, especially if it’s another female who raises concerns about the insecure woman’s behavior. I cringe when I hear managers say, “Why can’t women get along?” That’s a good way to invite a lawsuit. It also goes back to the first don’t of being dismissive of the behavior and assuming that all women behave this way. They don’t. Don’t devalue your good female employees.
Do Keep It Specific to the Behavior and Company Standards Not the Person
The best way to keep it from becoming about gender (and a lawsuit) is by focusing on the behavior and company policies, and not the person. The books Crucial Conversations and Difficult Conversations give great examples of how to have the tough conversations. Revel Gordon with Smart Company also provided some helpful guidelines on handling difficult conversations in his recent post on challenging conversations.
Overall, don’t let insecure women run rampant in your organization. They do nothing to grow and develop the company and only get worse over time. Show you value the entire team and protect your company by being proactive, professional, and direct.