Advice, Healthy & Beautiful

Women in the Workplace: Learning to Support Each Other


When I was in the security line for my flight back to DC last week, I overheard two women, who were clearly coworkers, talking about the incompetency of a third female, who couldn’t create a Powerpoint up to their standards.  They both complained about the need to redo her work, both agreeing she should just “know” how to do what they wanted, and that they shouldn’t have to provide direction, which they both weren’t sure if they should because it would just take more time.  They then went on to attack the type of person she is, saying she will never get anywhere in the workplace because she just isn’t living up to their standards.

In listening to this dialogue, I felt really bad for the girl, who had no idea her work (and her character) were being torn apart by two impatient women, who clearly think how they do things is everything and how others do it, simply is incorrect.  It took everything to hold me back from asking both of them if they had ever made mistakes in their lives, and how had they wished it was handled?  And that, perhaps, they work together to help improve this poor girl’s skill set, as they will look even more successful for taking the lead on doing a great job managing.

All too often, I see a lot of negative workplace behaviors that can make a woman feel a lot less than she actually is.  Given the emphasis on women’s rights to equal pay, as well as treatment, we women are not doing as great of a job promoting positive reinforcement, that is so desperately needed, in so many competitive industries today.  Taking even 10 minutes out of your day, can do someone a world of good.

When I worked at Booz Allen, I volunteered on my lunch hour to help women, transitioning out of alternative housing, into Administrative careers, by way of teaching basic Microsoft Word and PowerPoint to them.  A simple “Great job” made their day when they learned how to cut and paste.  Complimenting them on their borrowed “business attire” made them feel more official   and I could tell their “can do”, confident attitude was at an all-time high.  We forget that we women, already in the workforce, are in privileged positions, to help those who can learn what we know.  It’s not a individual competition, it’s a team marathon.

Below are the top two negative workplace behaviors I see, and how we women can help quickly turn these into positives.

Negative Behavior #1: When we criticize someone’s work behind their back but do not offer direct, constructive criticism to them at the point of issue, we hold in resentment.  When we hold in resentment, it builds up.  When it builds up, we explode.  This causes the person, who has no idea what they’ve done, to be incredibly confused, trying to defend the work they’ve done, as they just do not understand what they’ve done wrong.

How to turn this into a positive: First, ask yourself if what the person did wrong is just a personal preference in style, or if they are missing the mark in terms of overall business/industry culture.  If it’s the latter, sit down with the person and explain what could be done differently, or how the project would usually be done, from a business/industry culture point of view.  If it’s the first, you need to ask yourself if this is related to personal preference of the individual or if imparting your skill set knowledge will really help the person.  If it’s the latter, spend the time to help them grow.  It’s a win-win – they grow and you exhibit model management behavior.

Negative Behavior #2: Chronic complaining about the person’s work, using “You always..”, “You never…”, “You are…”.  The problem with these statements are 1. You’re pointing fingers, which no one likes and 2. Complaining eventually falls on deaf ears.  It does not make anyone want to change their behaviors or attempt to want to grow and be better.

How to turn this into a positive: First, use “I feel (insert the emotion) when you do (insert the action).”  It shifts the focus from making it all about the person who is irritating you, to sharing blame (so-to-speak).  Second, complaining does nothing in the scheme of things.  Offer a solution for the issue.  Can you help fix it?  What are some options to help the person grow?  Finally, hold them accountable to work through it.  Is there a certain timeline you can provide, so that you and they can track their success?

It doesn’t matter how fast-paced your day is, how much you have on your plate, or even just personal preference on an individual – constructive, timely criticism is the difference between women rising as equals, and women still being suppressed into less than what we can be.  It starts with each of us, supporting and building each other up, to help bring out the very best in each of us.  The more we can strengthen and promote positive workplace behaviors, the more we will succeed.