We are in an era where everything women do is under scrutiny; the way we look and dress, the way we parent, the life choices and decisions we make. And whether we admit it or not, we are often part of this dismantling of our fellow women and not just the ones we don’t like or don’t get along with. This post is more personal than others I’ve written because it comes from recent experiences I have had with another female colleague who I’ve been friendly with but who clearly wasn’t a friend to me. This is because she has been talking about me negatively with other people.
However, before we go further, let me back up a step and explain what a “candle blower” is for the purposes of this article. A “candle blower” is someone who metaphorically blows out the candle (i.e. the light) of others by tearing them down, maligning and slandering them, or outright gossiping about others in an effort to make their own candle shine brighter. Candle blowers can be male or female, but for this article I am talking to my female colleagues.
While I was going through this experience it made me reminisce about earlier periods of my life because it felt very high school, where jealously, envy and insecurity often dictate and drive negative behaviors towards one another, even between friends. The problem is we are grown adults in the workplace and that type of behavior doesn’t fly anymore despite how common and frequent it is. If I have an issue with someone I prefer to address it with them directly, though I don’t relish confrontation in any form, I accept that sometimes it is necessary.
In this case, the individual said nothing to me directly but rather to third parties. Of course, the third parties told me what was being said because they are friends of mine as well. My initial response was surprise because I didn’t expect this type of behavior from someone I was friendly with. My second thought was that we are all human and this is what humans do. My third thought was that I had a choice to make: either respond in kind or do what has been my norm my whole life and rise above the situation, taking the high road.
I chose the high road because I realized the person who was talking about me suffers from two things: 1.) good old-fashioned jealousy/envy and 2.) deep-seated insecurity. I resisted calling her out and making it into a thing, despite feeling slightly hurt because we were friendly. I felt sadness that as women we couldn’t find a way to support and lift each other up instead of feeling the need to tear down and diminish. As a feminist in an industry that remains male-dominated, despite significant gains for females in recent decades, I strongly believe we need to empower other women as opposed to tearing them down.
Here are some tips to help avoid falling into “candle blower” behaviors and help empower other women:
1.) Resist the temptation to compete over everything. First of all, not everything is a competition and there are plenty of opportunities to go around and plenty of opportunities to individually shine. As you move up the career ladder, resist the urge to push other women off the ladder on your way up. Instead, help them up the ladder, et voila, more women will make it to the top. This will be the moment when we will truly see what a transformed and gender-balanced workplace looks like.
2.) Stop the gossip. Especially if it is unfounded, merely speculative or purely fictional hearsay. Instead of talking about each other, try speaking with each other directly, especially if you have a real issue you need to iron out. As women we need to find ways to be comfortable when dealing with the tough stuff. It is abundantly clear we won’t always agree on things. And we certainly won’t be able to find a happy medium or the ability to “agree to disagree” if we don’t speak with one another.
3.) Don’t let your insecurities get the better of you. As human beings, we are ruled by many competing emotions and one of the most powerful that creeps up when we find ourselves criticizing others is insecurity. When we feel insecurity within ourselves, especially when we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others, such as, “she is smarter than I am,” “she is better than I am at x,” “she is doing more than I am,” “she is rising faster than I am,” it can manifest negatively into tearing the other person down to make ourselves feel more secure.
Instead, when you are feeling insecure why not try to lift yourself and the woman you are criticizing up instead of falling into the negative spiral insecurity brings? Ultimately, that should make you feel better or make you more secure.
4.) Embrace difference. Life would be so boring and artificial if we were all the same, thought the same, looked the same, did things the same way. Life is beautiful and made more interesting because we are different. We are all unique; there is only one you, there is only one me and because of that difference there should never be an expectation that we are going to share the same values, the same outlooks, or that we would go about living life the same way. Whatever difference or disparity you feel with someone that might lead you to diminishing them, remember they are people too and deserve respect as you do; the golden rule goes both ways.
I learned long ago that I am not in competition with anyone, that there are many paths on the road to success and the only real competition I have in life is myself. I have always tried to avoid gossip and tearing others down, and if I’m being honest, I haven’t always succeeded. But at the end of the day my integrity, reputation and professionalism are all I have, so as a woman and a professional, I do my utmost to avoid being a candle blower and to minimize individuals in my life who participate in this type of behavior as a practice.
Lia Miller is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.