Workplace Woes – 5 Mistakes Women Make

This week, I continue the topic of gender roles and communication. I have offered greater detail to my article entitled, “Workplace Woes – 5 Mistakes Women Make” (

To achieve notable success in the workplace women need to stop engaging in one or more of these five behaviors:


Frequently, women spend too much time discussing or analyzing a single situation. Rather than putting it to bed and moving on, they rehash an incident over and over again. As a result, they never really get closure on it. Such behavior wastes time, turns people off, and erodes credibility.

Why do women keep doing this? Incessant discussion allows them to process the situation emotionally, provides opportunities for them to vent their feelings, and generally gives them lots of attention. How can they stop it? Women who talk something to death need to figure out why they are doing this in the first place. They need to employ some personal discipline in the workplace and seek out a trusted friend or partner to work through the situation after hours.

Q: Can you give any quick tips for helping women to “get over it?”

A:  Actually, I would not want women to get over all of this, because they talk to process things.  Processing is important.  The key is to find a happy medium and not talk too much.  Men, on the other hand, may benefit by talking through things a bit more.


Regular and excessive displays of anger, tears, pouts, prolonged silence, and/or theatrical laughter basically tell bosses and peers that these women don’t deserve professional respect. Such demonstrations communicate emotional weakness, fragility, and lack of control.

Women who indulge in these behaviors may benefit from a false feeling of power, others’ pity, intense attention, and special treatment. Instead of manipulating workplace colleagues, these women need to determine why they are doing this, examine the pay-offs, and perhaps seek professional help. When a troubling situation arises on the job, they simply ought to tell the appropriate party how they feel about it using direct but diplomatic language. Adult behavior accomplishes more than childish rantings, sulks, or tears.

Q: Emotion in the workplace is a common theme for women. How do you advise women to keep it professional?

A:   I recommend that women immediately identify what they are feeling in a given situation and then spend some time processing that emotion within themselves BEFORE they interact with others or react during a meeting.  Some self discipline is required.  However, I don’t recommend that women avoid showing all emotion in all circumstances.  That simply is not natural or healthy.


Complaining that often resembles whining is unattractive, especially to supervisors. Dumping problems in others’ laps, laden with emotional content, without providing possible solutions gets “old” really fast. It pulls down office morale, frustrates the receiver, labels the women doing it as chronic complainers, and shows that they are incapable of coping with difficult issues. While whining women may get the immediate attention and pity they crave, they certainly don’t get promotions and leadership roles.

What should these women do instead? They need to privately acknowledge their emotions first, then rationally think through the problem at hand, consider several solution options, and strategize how to implement each possible fix. Taking all of this to the boss along with clarity around the resources required to move forward puts women in a position of strength.

Q: Negativity breeds negativity, regardless of gender. How does one remain positive in a negative professional situation?

A: Even in the most negative situations there is something that can be learned, acknowledged, or even celebrated.  Women—or men—need to focus first on the tiny grain that is indeed positive in the midst of a negative situation.  Talking about the positive before launching into the negative sets the tone for a more constructive conversation.


Women who expect gifts, lengthy personal conversations, meals in restaurants, and social visits at home from their bosses and/or Board members are living in a fantasy world and setting themselves up for huge problems. If the boss delivers, these women risk colleague ire when others find out. If the boss declines, they themselves feel cheated and disappointed. Regardless of whatever the supervisor chooses to do, employee performance appraisals can suffer. Bosses cannot evaluate someone fairly when they are personally and inappropriately involved with that person.

Women seeking this sort of attention get to feel powerful when the boss indulges them in the ways they desire. They may imagine they are protected from lay-offs or termination. They may feel very special, and they may over-inflate their value to the organization. In short, these women are on shaky ground. If the relationship changes or ends, problems abound. How to stop this? Women should not expect it or start it in the first place. Instead, they can show their supervisor that they just want to be treated like any other professional in the workplace, being treated fairly, being held accountable, and being recognized for outstanding contributions as they occur.

Q: What if the boss or colleague initiates the more “close-knit” behavior? How can a woman tell her superior “no” without appearing rude?

A:   It depends on the situation.  If the boss wants to do dinner alone with the employee, then the employee makes sure her boss knows she is busy that night.  If the boss is expecting lengthy personal conversations behind closed doors in the office setting, the employee can indulge for a few minutes before announcing gently that she has an appointment coming up.  This type of situation is delicate.  The woman does not want to offend the boss, but at the same time she needs to set appropriate boundaries.  Handling these sorts of scenarios takes real finesse.


Pretending that some situation doesn’t exist or fantasizing that it’s better than it really is can derail a woman’s career in serious ways. It demonstrates that this woman cannot see things as they are, that she has flawed judgment, and that she won’t take appropriate action. Worse, the truth will in fact smack that woman in the face sooner or later, and she will be left vulnerable.

Turning away from temporary pain isn’t worth the long term agony. Feeling better only lasts for a while. Continuing to coast doesn’t solve the workplace problem or enhance a career. How often do women deny reality? More often than many may think. When women chronically turn their heads from truth, they probably need therapy. Denying reality is not living a responsible life. It’s a habit that serves no one well. And, it can be dangerous, depending on the circumstances. For women who generally want to face their reality but at times need a little help, they might try dividing the situation into manageable segments rather than swallowing the whole piece at once.

Q: Obviously, nothing is perfect and women may feel they should “grin and bear it” or “not make a big deal out of it.” How can they tell the difference between something that’s truly a situation and something that maybe they are simply emotional about?

A: The best way to differentiate between a “real situation” and something minor is to share it with a trusted colleague, friend, or partner with the purpose of obtaining that person’s observations and input.  A third party is very valuable in this case.  But the woman needs to be sure she fully trusts that third party.

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I wrote this article based upon many years of observations. Those observations do not apply to all women. But one or more of them do apply to lots of women I have observed personally over thirty years—and certainly during the last three years.