PHOTOGRAPH: Scott Griessel, 123rf.com

Every office has one: Aggressive, rude, manipulative, disruptive, ultra-competitive, narcissistic and crafty, she’s the catty colleague you hate. Make a mistake and she belittles you in front of everyone. Tell her a secret and she finds a way to use it against you. Discuss an idea with her and she shoots it down, making you feel stupid and small. She’s worse than toxic. You wish you could ignore her but you have to work with her, and right now she’s making your job hell.

 

Her behaviour explained

She behaves the way she does to get ahead in her career, says Julia Ng, a senior executive coach at Executive Coach International. “It’s all about needing to feel powerful and gain the upper hand over everyone else. Underlying that, however, is an overwhelming insecurity. By being nasty, she minimises the threat posed by others and this boosts her self-confidence and self-esteem.”

While she may get on your nerves, Julia says that secretly, you probably wish you had some of her qualities. “It sounds surprising, but the office b**** can certainly teach us a thing or two about finding our voice and standing up for ourselves at work,” she explains. 

“Despite the way she comes across – difficult to talk to, hard-headed and constantly on the defensive – there’s no denying the office bitch is someone who says what’s on her mind, stands for what she believes in and isn’t afraid to say no to others. Many of us wish we could be that way at work.” 

 

No reaction is the best reaction

When this woman acts up, don’t be tempted to get the better of her. This is unprofessional and will not get you anywhere. Remember, you have to work with her, so it’s important to try and keep the peace. 

That doesn’t mean you have to suck up to her or pretend to like her. “Rather than challenge her or stroke her ego, the best thing you can do is to stay neutral,” advises Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre. 

 

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“This shows her that you’re not out to get her, and that you’re in control and not affected by her behaviour. Being neutral tells her that you value her skills and competence and that you want to work with her instead of against her.”

What’s a nice girl to do? Focus on the job and don’t get personal, no matter how much she gets on your nerves or provokes you. Daniel says: “She may say or do something just to get your attention, but if you want to get along with her on a professional level and get the job done, you cannot be seen as a threat.”

Julia adds that you should stand your ground and be firm. “Being nasty back reflects badly on you and only serves to drag you down to her level,” she says. “If you get upset or angry, don’t retaliate, as this woman thrives on confrontation. She’s likely to win a fight with you since she’s so good at it.”

Instead, keep a clear head about what you’re trying to achieve. Remind yourself of the big picture, Julia says. “That way, you’re less likely to stress out over her bad behaviour or get into petty arguments with her. If she sees that her games have no effect on you, she will back down."

 

Get her on your side

It’s one thing to keep things civil, but if you really want to work well with her and perhaps even become good work friends, be friendly and kind towards her wherever possible. 

“Be her friend, but don’t get too close,” Julia explains. “You don’t have to share too much about yourself or be overly helpful. And don’t gossip about other colleagues or complain about your job because you don’t know if she will use this piece of gossip against you.”

 

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You should also look for opportunities to stand up for her, such as when she faces opposition from others on the team. Of course, it’s important to first look at the entire situation and try to understand the perspectives of everyone involved. 

If you believe that the office bitch has some valid points, raise your opinion objectively and loudly. She will see that you’re standing up for her and immediately regard you as an ally. At the same time, you’re not making it personal enough to identify too closely with her. Your boss will also see you as a mature person who can see things from a strategic viewpoint.  

Finally, if you notice that she is upset about something that happened at work, and you happen to be involved in the situation as well, tell her it’s unfortunate the way things turned out and you can see why she might be angry. Offer to talk it over with her, says Julia. This is totally professional, and you will win her over with your kindness.