Be Nice: What “Feud” Teaches Women In The Workplace About Our Competitors

The rivalry between two successful women in "Feud: Bette and JOan," may be entertaining, but not so much in real life.

The rivalry between two successful women in "Feud: Bette and JOan," may be entertaining, but not so much in real life.

Few rivalries between successful female competitors were as fierce onscreen and off-screen as the spite fest between mid-20th century Hollywood divas Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.

With the first season of “Feud: Bette and Joan” reaching its final episode later this week on FX and already in pre-sales on Amazon, we can learn lessons in workplace behavior from these two ladies who at times were far from ladylike in their own behaviors.

We can learn workplace lessons from the ladies of #Feud who at times were far from ladylike

With ratings soaring and Emmy Award nominations whispered about for both Susan Sarandon as Bette and Jessica Lange as Joan, the Sunday night dip into the legacy of women fighting other women for power shows us how not to act in real life as well as how not to apply face powder.

“From the start, ‘Feud’ has been very strong in its depiction of power dynamics and business negotiations. Hollywood is not an altruistic industry,” Sheila O’Malley writes in the New York Times. “’What’s in it for me?’ is a given in any interaction,” she writes.

Here are six tips to avoid a fate worse than Bette –or Joan– and maximize cooperation with your sisterhood, not competition.

Applaud, don’t dis your sister. Speak highly of your competitors and peers. #LeanInTogether
  1. Applaud, don’t dis your sister.Trash talk and gossip about women in the workplace or another woman leader in another company or organization only makes you look small. Speak highly of your competitors and peers. Uplift others, don’t try to bring anyone down. Do not criticize your female colleagues or competitors in public. And for sure do not engage in any social media bashing. Instead, an approach with peers and allies as co-owners of the mission to succeed affects everything you do. “It is built into the way you work, and it is smart business. You have an opportunity to engage this unique way of thinking to take your company to new heights.,” writes Stephanie Breedlove in All In, a book she says is written for women entrepreneurs by a woman entrepreneur.

  2. Be comfortable with yourself. And allow others to be comfortable with who they are around you, especially women in the workplace. That’s what matters. “We sort of grow comfortable in our own skin, so I think it’s about developing that self-awareness, and saying you are the only you,” says Nicole Lapin, author of Boss Bitch, in Signature.“People want to work with and for people whom they like,” says Lapin, the former CNN and CNBC anchor and host of the business competition reality TV show “Hatched.”

  3. Be a mentor not a menace. It may be tempting to claw at another woman as she makes her way to the top, especially if it as your expense, or at a competing company. But be bigger than that and be the kind of woman leader others look up to and do not run away from when you enter a room. “Women mentors provide insider information to other women — revealing unwritten rules that are key to career advancement. We provide to each other powerful lessons about navigating professional and personal obligations. We serve as sponsors and advocates for one another, opening doors and providing critical connections due to our earned social and political capital,” writes Allison McWilliams, the Director of Career Education in the Wake Forest Office of Personal and Career Development in BizJournals.

  4. Be a sky, not a pie person. A person who operates as if success and accomplishment are part of a finite pie will not wish you success, because it means less for them. An infinite pie or sky person believes the pie is unlimited, just as the sky is the limit for all of us and that your success might be contagious. I will succeed because you succeed and we help each other. “Apparently there is no finite cheesecake, um, pie,” writes Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead. She writes here, “That principle is one of the bedrocks we will examine as we plumb women’s relationship with power, intentionality, and leadership in our curriculum. And it also helps explain why I’m sharing my work through Take The Lead’s Leadership Power Tools Train the Trainer program. I believe we can create that infinite pie with three ingredients: vision, courage, and discipline.”

  5. Vengeance isn’t an attractive quality. If like Bette and Joan in the tv series, you are motivated by getting back at the other women in the workplace and making your competitor look bad, then you will damage your own reputation. Neither of those leading ladies had many friends; most people feared them. Cultivate friendships at work and outside of work in your field by networking. Be kind and have nice things to say and look like a leader. Lisa Skeete Tatum, founder and CEO of Landit, told Digitalist Magazine that how you communicate and how you look are critical to your success. “The three components of executive presence are how you act, how you look, and how you speak. The most important factor is gravitas, followed by communication, then appearance. You need to have confidence, meaning grace under fire, be decisive, have integrity, speak truth to power, and have emotional intelligence.”

  6. Don’t try to outdo by overdoing. The drive to outshine other women in the workplace can backfire on you, making you not more productive, but less efficient and more exhausted. “If you do less, better, then you can focus on opportunities to have the greatest impact and create real value, which is how you get recognized,” says Lori Senecal, chairman and CEO of New York-based ad agency Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners., in Forbes. “It’s possible to get lost when you take on too much work.” Jenna Goudreau writes, “Senecal learned the value of prioritizing though trial and error. She would often over-volunteer for assignments, she says, which took up so much time that there was little left for planning and strategic thinking. By focusing for impact, you get a higher return on your time.”

The drive to outshine other women at work can backfire, making you inefficient & exhausted #SisterCourage

If you are a fan of the show, “Feud: Bette and Joan,” you know that both of these women love to have the last word in any conversation. But you don’t have to. Watching Bette and Joan figuratively and literally knock each other out may make for an entertaining Sunday evening, but behaving that way toward another woman professionally will not earn you any awards.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon