Women Behaving Badly

When the publisher of our local business newspaper asked me to give a leadership workshop at the Woman of the Year Award Forum they sponsor, I knew immediately what I wanted to talk about.

“Mary, this is a touchy subject, but sometimes women lose leadership credibility by criticizing other women.” I said. “I think we can address this, but it’s risky.”

“I love it,” Mary said. “I’ve wanted to talk about this for ten years. Let’s do it.”

It’s sad but true. Sometimes women talk trash about other women. Let’s fess up. I’ve done it. You’ve done it.

Someone we know or work with gets ambitious and we say, “She thinks she’s better than us.” A woman shows up looking a little “refreshed” or younger, and the whispers begin. “You think she’s had some work done?”

Last weekend I saw a panel discussion with five female journalists who are covering the 2012 election cycle. (http://bit.ly/RJXeet) Their conversation turned to how difficult it is for women in politics. Why? Because of the criticism. And that criticism comes from women.

Most of the criticism has nothing to do with the candidates’ policy positions or experience. It’s about their hair, their clothes, their weight. I’ve heard it called “The Three H’s – Hair, Hemlines and Husbands.”

I was especially pained to hear one journalist say that her high school daughter told her, “Mom, girls won’t run for student council offices. They’re afraid other girls will post ugly comments on their Facebook pages.” Comments about who they’re dating, their clothes, their appearance.

Our daughters learned this from us. Ouch!

Gossiping and finding fault with other women causes a deep lack of trust. Nothing is more damaging to our reputation as professional women.

We can do better. We can develop a deeper self awareness of what causes our behavior by learning about the concepts of shadow and projection, developed by Carl Jung.

Our shadow is the part of our unconscious mind that we deny and repress. In simple terms, we reject in others what we reject or can’t accept in ourselves. We see and attribute both negative and positive qualities to others that we can’t acknowledge in ourselves.

Here’s another way to think about it: When another person exhibits behaviors that really annoy or repel us, we either have those same behaviors or qualities and are blind to them, or, we don’t have them and could use a little more of that quality.

The shadow and projection are defense mechanisms. We resort to defense mechanisms when we feel scared, hurt, vulnerable, jealous or threatened in any way.

So when someone really pushes our buttons we know we are seeing at least part of our shadow.

Once we recognize that what irritates us in others has more to do with US than THEM, we’ll stop talking badly about each other. We can learn to intercept that process early and often – before we let those damaging little comments slip out of our mouths. Here’s how:

§ Think of a woman that annoys you (it might be me right now!). What behaviors or traits does she have that you find annoying or irritating?
§ Look deep…can you find similar – or opposite – characteristics any place in yourself? Or can you see that you might have “disowned” those traits?
§ How can you grow by accepting or integrating this rejected part of yourself? By healing what caused you to reject that part of yourself?

Once you look a little deeper and embrace what you have disowned, you’ll find your anger, irritation or resentment diminishes. You may never be “best friends forever” with this women, but you’ll be able to detach emotionally and not let her get under your skin. You may even find compassion for her.

Understanding and embracing our shadow can help reduce or remove the urge to find fault with other women. If we’re finding fault with them, we’re REALLY finding fault with ourselves.

When you feel yourself about to gossip, criticize or find fault with another woman, use these four simple steps:
§ Mind your tongue – don’t say a word
§ Ask yourself, “What behaviors, attitudes, or qualities irritate me?”
§ Reflect deeply & find similar or opposite traits in yourself
§ Embrace what you have disowned

I appreciated Mary’s courage to address this touchy topic with the best and the brightest women in Oklahoma.

Please join us in a commitment to be good role models for our daughters, nieces, and granddaughters by putting an end to gossip and finding fault with other women.

The world needs all the passion, power and goodness in you. I hope you’ll embrace that passion and use it to affirm, support and encourage other women.
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Author of Why Women Run Smaller Businesses Than Men, founder of EWF International® and creator of The Alpha Mare Academy™, Darcie Harris is an international speaker, trainer, author, media resource, award-winning consultant and champion for female entrepreneurs.    www.darcieharris.com  & www.alphamareacademy.com.