Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 16, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
When Women Don’t Play Nice
Judith Briles was sabotaged at work — big
time — and has gone on to make a career of exploring the ways
in which workers, and particularly women workers, wreck one another’s
Briles speaks on "Zapping Sabotage and Conflict in the Workplace"
on Tuesday, October 22, at the New Jersey Women’s Conference at the
East Brunswick Hilton. Hers is the first of 22 workshops at the two-day
event, at which feminist
at noon on the first day. The event, organized by the New Jersey Chamber
of Commerce, also hosts convocations of the Association of Black Women
Lawyers, New Jersey Women’s Forum, Women Entrepreneurs’ Connection,
the New Jersey Commission on the Status of Women, and the New Jersey
Association of Women Business Owners. Call 609-989-9888. Cost: $150
for day one, including the Steinem lunch; $60 for only the lunch;
$45 for the day one awards dinner; and $100 for day two.
Briles is traveling from Aurora, Colorado, home base for her writing,
consulting, and speaking business, to address the conference. A native
of California who speaks more quickly than a New Yorker and with as
much energy as a stand-up comedian, Briles hit upon her specialty
after being wiped out by her business partner. Originally a financial
planner, Briles and her partner had a sideline of investing in, upgrading,
and selling real estate for clients. While engaged in this business,
Briles’ partner embezzled $400,000 from a small hotel.
Briles left to run the hotel and salvage what money she could, enrolled
in an MBA program at Pepperdine to gain additional management acumen,
and then earned a doctorate in business administration from Nova Southeastern
University, a distance learning institution with a campus in Fort
Lauderdale. Rather than complete her dissertation on a more traditional
finance topic, Briles, with treachery still on her mind, researched
and wrote about the ways in which women sabotage each other in the
"Woman to Woman" is the book that came out of her dissertation.
It was published in 1987 by New Horizon after being rejected by 28
other publishing houses. "I caught a lot of crap," Briles
says of the book’s reception. "Women were saying `How could you
say women undermine women?’"
In the intervening years, most doubt evaporated. Anyone still clinging
to the notion of universal sisterhood had to let go when high-profile
female saboteurs like Tonya Harding made headlines. Then, of course,
there was Linda Tripp, described by Briles as "the saboteur of
Briles says she has interviewed tens of thousands of men and women
on sabotage in the workplace and has gone on to write a number of
books on the subject. There is "Woman to Woman 2000: Becoming
Sabotage Savvy in the New Millennium," "The Confidence Factor,"
and her latest, "Stop Stabbing Yourself in the Back: Zapping the
Enemy Within." She is on the verge of publishing "Zapping
Conflict" in the Healthcare Workplace.
Each gender undercuts co-workers, but there are differences in both
victims and methods. "Women are more inclined to target their
own gender," says Briles. "Men shaft anybody."
This being the case, woman to woman sabotage is far greater, Briles
observes, in "velvet ghettos," those professions that are
predominantly female. She gives nursing, teaching, banking, and social
work as examples.
Nothing can ruin a career more quickly than gossip, and that is the
tactic women employ most often, according to Briles. Where men tend
to be direct in criticizing a boss, co-worker, or underling, women,
says Briles, "are less inclined to confront directly." Instead,
they "go back to co-workers and grumble and complain about what
Bertha is doing to them."
Why do women do this? Why not just say what’s on their minds, and
be done with it? "I will fight to the end of the earth to say
it’s not genetic," Briles says with some heat. "It’s upbringing.
Girls learn early on that being bold and brassy gets them in deeper
do-do more rapidly."
Going undercover, women, or at least some women, resort to sabotage
to further their ambitions or merely to vent their frustrations. The
result, says Briles, can be mayhem in another’s professional life,
damage to her credibility, and destruction of her self-worth. And,
in her opinion, sabotage is on the rise, fed by the anxiety caused
by widespread downsizing and reorganization in a sour economy.
Since sabotage most often occurs in whispered conversations (sometimes
taped, as in the case of Linda Tripp/Monica Lewinsky), how can anyone
hope to avoid being a victim?
friends on the job, to trust co-workers with personal confidences.
"I’m on the guys’ side," declares Briles. "Women talk
too much. It’s not so smart to be open. We women trust just about
anyone. Then they betray us, and we give them another chance."
Men don’t understand this behavior, and they’re right. "It takes
a while to earn trust," Briles says. Be very careful about choosing
to confide personal information in anyone (again, think Linda Tripp),
and certainly do not do so before you have established a high degree
but rather look for those who lack confidence. Work on body language,
a tone of voice, and a manner of speaking that says you know you are
good at what you do. "If you’re confident," says Briles, "you’re
a much tougher nut to crack."
messed up your project, or shifted too much of the workload in your
direction, speak up — to the person involved. Do not engage in
behind-the-scenes gossip. It makes no situation better, and poisons
the air. What’s more, those who spend their free time gossiping are
invariably found out, and earn a reputation that can sink their prospects.
a saboteur, many a brave office worker has gone to the boss with a
group grievance, only to find the troops whistling and studying the
ceiling when the boss goes looking for confirmation. Do not speak
for the group, says Briles, and don’t write a memo on your letterhead
on their behalf.
in nearly every workplace, and then be on the look-out for signs that
you are becoming a victim.
you need help," suggests Briles. The saboteur will sometimes neglect
her own work to hover around doing yours. She might also by-pass your
authority — or encourage others to do so. Or perhaps she might
encourage you to do the impossible, thereby cutting your confidence,
while setting you up for a fall.
Notice that each of these behaviors can look benign, even positive.
But, says Briles, each should, at the very least, raise your antennae
to the possibility that you are being undermined.
can take heart from Briles’ experience. Sure, she lost a lot of money,
but she learned her lesson, and moved on. In fact, she has built a
successful company on the skullduggery of her former partner. While
she also writes extensively on money management, a good part of Briles’
income now comes from writing and speaking about workplace treachery.
Come to think of it Monica Lewinsky, handbag designer and mini-celebrity,
and Nancy Kerrigan, professional figure skater and author, came out
of major sabotage situations pretty well too. Which leads to Briles’
final point: "Let it go, and move on."
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.