It is probably one of the most painful experiences we can have in our careers—working side by side with someone who goes out of their way to undermine us. They can be passive aggressive—never returning calls, ignoring our emails or they can out right attack our credibility, our work or performance on a project. When that person is another woman, it can be especially painful. When it’s another Latina it can be devastating. Cultural infighting is not something unique to Latinas but since there are so few of us in professional roles or leadership positions, it is particularly painful and confusing when it happens.
Shouldn’t we stick together? Shouldn’t we support each other’s success? Absolutely. Can Latinas lose their way and resort to being petty? Absolutely.
Women as a whole have very different ways of demonstrating conflict. Unlike men, we tend not to get physical or shout at each other. Women can resort to more subtle forms of aggression—excluding a person from social events, spreading gossip, minimizing the person’s role or contributions to a team, and yes, criticizing without being constructive. The result of all this is certainly a loss in productivity and overall disengagement in a work group which can be bad for the company and bad for the women involved, too.
If the two women in conflict are Latinas, there is another dangerous outcome: a perception that Latinas can’t get along among themselves. No one may say it out loud but a battle between two Latinas in the open raises the suspicion that we are so desperate for opportunity, recognition, power or all three that we are willing to crawl over our own to get to the top. How can they do that to each other?
Most of the Latinas I’ve coached can share a story or two about this kind of experience and it remains one of the hardest issues to address. Confronting the person is key. Equally important is finding some common ground on which to reframe the relationship in order to create an effective working relationship. You don’t have to be best of friends but you do need to end the battle. If there is a perceived threat or competition for a promotion, it should be no surprise that supervisors typically don’t want to add another headache to their day. They may opt to promote another person—even less qualified–just to avoid the drama that will happen once one Latina is promoted over the other. If there is a perceived power play—trying for more control or visibility or both—both Latinas may be so distracted by each other’s posturing that someone else can step in and take the project to greater success. In short, everyone loses in these scenarios.
If you are in conflict with another Latina at the office, in your sorority, or at your children’s parent association—stop. As James Edward Olmos says to the audience in Zoot Zuits “don’t take the pinche play so serious.” Look at the big picture of your life’s journey and what you want to achieve. How much energy does this conflict detract from your ability to move forward with your goals? How does being in conflict reduce the value of your success? The sign of true pride in being Latina comes not from stepping on others’ backs to reach your dreams—it comes from lifting each other up and elevating one another to achieve more than we can do alone. Tell me about how you resolve your battles at Latina Cubicle Confidential™ or join me live at the next LatinaVIDA™.