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How to Stand Up to a Female Co-worker

Updated on February 24, 2013

As the percentage of women in the American workforce is nearing 50%, the chances of having a run-in with a female co-worker are pretty high. This article will examine some methods of addressing problems that might arise.

Men need to be very careful when confronting a female co-worker.
Men need to be very careful when confronting a female co-worker. | Source

Male Co-Workers

As a woman, my experiences as a man dealing with a problematic female co-worker are nil. However, I have worked in the legal sector, and I would advise that men with a complaint about a female, not do a closed door take down, but work through a mediator or his boss and her boss. Even if your intentions are completely above-board, personal discussions, just the two of you, can be easily misconstrued, to your complete surprise. The current work climate is very sensitive to any form of harassment, which can be defined in a myriad of ways.

Female Supervisors

Harassment is also a definite possibility if, in your position, you could, by any stretch of the imagination, risk your co-workers job or reputation. So, again, in this case, if you aren't able to affect change through open, standard conversations, contact HR, make it clear that you don’t want any misunderstandings, and ask if a mediator could be assigned to a discussion.

The Foremost Goal

Keep in mind that the goal of confrontation is to produce a more amiable and productive working relationship. This is about the company running more efficiently, not about proving who is right and who is wrong. Only confront your co-worker if you can keep this concept in mind. The only right is what’s good for the company.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Although the benefits of speaking to a co-worker face-to-face are many, when preparing for a resolution meeting, it is a good idea to print out a few e-mails that demonstrate the problem and demonstrate that you have repeatedly tried to resolve the situation in a professional manner. This is a somewhat time-consuming practice, but hopefully it will free up your resources after the meeting.

In addition, make sure you are in the right frame of mind for the meeting – this is not about proving who is right and who is wrong, it’s all about what’s best for the company. Make your mantra: “This isn’t about me, it’s about the company.”

So, the actual discussion will not contain phrases starting with “You” but (as you’ve probably heard from marriage counselors), “I can’t get my job done properly when ________ keeps happening.” “ I’d like to find a way to get [whatever you need] without emotions coming into the picture.”

A common starter used by managers and in the teaching field is to begin with a compliment and recognition of achievement. So, start with something like, “I admire your ability to __________ and I realize you’ve worked hard here for __________ years, but I keep hitting a roadblock when __________, and I’m hoping we can work out a solution.”

Even if she has been intentionally undercutting you (for whatever reason), a mediated discussion will establish that you are being the professional, and even if you two are never friends (no need for that), it will become public knowledge that a new system is now in place so that you can remove the drama and get on with your job. She now knows that if she doesn’t keep with the new system, she’ll be hearing from her boss.

Personal Examples of Failure and Success

  • The Passive-Aggressive Co-worker
  • The Co-worker Who Tells You How to Do Your Job
  • The Professional, Exemplary Female Supervisor

The Passive-Agressive Co-worker

The first woman I worked with was during the beginning of my career, and I learned a lot about what not to do during a confrontation. We were both technical writers, she had seniority, and she assumed that she was my supervisor, although my boss said she was not, and we were assigned different projects. She went as far to ask the IT department to forward all of my incoming and outgoing e-mails through her.

You’ve maybe encountered this type of personality – basically passive/aggressive. She had no desire to see me succeed, even at the expense of the products we were producing for the company. She was obviously just collecting a paycheck. She had been assigned to train me, but that didn’t happen. Whenever I couldn’t figure something out, she was openly rude and condescending.

I suggested to my boss that we start a mutual editing practice, wherein I would lend a second set of eyes to her completed manuals and she to mine, ensuring accuracy and a professional image to the documents before the client saw them. He agreed, and I found hundreds of mistakes in the first document I edited. That’s when I realized that she didn’t really care about the product. And that’s when I realized that I really didn’t deserve the attitude she was giving me.

She was making work utterly miserable for me, and I made the following mistakes:

  • I did not include our boss in the discussion.
  • I waited too long to approach her. I was overly distraught by that point.
  • When I did approach her in her cube, she was quietly nasty, and I lost it – raised my voice and had to try to talk while crying. I was so mad at myself for losing control of my emotions.

So, lessons learned:

  • Don’t wait until you are overly emotional.
  • Involve a third party if the problem has progressed to the point where your ability to do your job is hampered.
  • Do NOT cry during the discussion (this makes you look weak).
  • And don’t make the confrontation look like a cat fight (this lowers women’s reputations).
  • Always put the company’s interests first – this discussion is not about a girl being mean to you (juvenile).

Did I ask your opinion?
Did I ask your opinion? | Source

The Woman Who Tries to Tell You How to Do Your Job

By this time, I’d learned what not to do. In addition, I had racked up years of experience, besides my college degree and additional training in my field. I knew I deserved respect.

I was brought on to the company because of my experience and ideas on how to improve their documentation, which clients had been complaining about. So, I instituted some huge changes and earned the respect of our management and managers of the huge companies we served.

However, as soon as I had started that job, there was an engineer who took it upon herself to shadow my work product and tell me what she thought I was doing wrong and how I wasn’t following the procedures (or lack thereof) that had, in her opinion, worked in the past. I tried to be appreciative of her ‘suggestions,’ but after a while, her ‘interest’ in my job was consuming way too much of my time, crafting e-mails explaining why I made the decisions I did. It was also, no doubt, consuming her work time. In this case, our boss worked out of state, we were a small company, and I know he was one of those “just work it out” type of managers.

So, I gave a lot of thought about how to approach this co-worker. I made sure I was not feeling emotional and, in person, told her that I understand and appreciate her concern for the product, but that enough time has passed for me to prove my expertise and that she needed to respect my work. I said that I respected her expertise as an engineer, and would never assume to tell her how to do her job, now I expected the same. I explained what management’s expectations were for me when I was hired, and that they and the customers were happy with my work. I told her that it would benefit both of us, time-wise, if she could just let her concerns go and let me do the worrying.

She actually responded quite professionally, and the matter was resolved.

Empowering Female Supervisor
Empowering Female Supervisor | Source

The Professional Supervisor

The third time I worked closely with a woman completely restored my faith in female co-workers. My supervisor was supportive, fair, enthusiastic about my ideas, had a good sense of humor, was a good listener, and knew how to keep her team working together – so I know that a productive, professional relationship with a woman is possible.

Final Tips

  • If you are very confident in your education and years of experience, you may opt to ignore e-mails that consume your time for no good reason.
  • Develop a sense of humor: If receiving non-productive instructions, just say, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” And move on.
  • Be openly friendly to the problematic co-worker.
  • Become confident, or at least learn confident body language.

Have you ever had a run-in with a female co-worker?

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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      The concerns you cited occur pretty often. You gave good counsel which would be good to remember before stuff happens.


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