Do You Know A MMG*? *Modern Mean Girl

Here's how to deal with her cruel behaviour

Modern Mean Girls

by Natasha Poliszcuk |
Updated on

It can come as a shock when adult life starts imitating the Mean Girls film, as Kourtney Kardashian Barker found when she realised she’s the subject of WhatsApp group ‘Not Kourtney’. Here’s how to identify a MMG and deal with her cruel behaviour.

The 'no offence, but...' commenter

Social media is a breeding ground for unsolicited advice and mean girl behaviour. Witness: ‘No offence, but... I think you’re looking too thin/tired/like you’ve put on weight/I don’t love this outfit.’ You can almost see the logic: by posting photos and videos, we offer ourselves up for public scrutiny and comment. The advice might even be well-intended; she is often the first to jump on the #bekind bandwagon. A troll? Her? Perish the thought. She’s more subtle than that.

How to handle her

‘You can’t control them, but you can control how you react,’ says coach and Rotary International peace fellow Dhruti Shah**. Any sentence that begins, ‘No offence but...’ will, by definition, be offensive. A polite reply saying that a comment has upset you is often effective. If not, there’s always the block button.

The 'complimentary' friend

Alas, there is no block button for the mean girl who is (meant to be) a friend. But what about those double-edged messages masquerading as compliments at which she excels? ‘Wow, that dress is bold.’ ‘You’re so brave to be getting divorced – I know I could never do that to my kids.’ She is the queen of the subtle put-down. You’re left wondering whether you’re just reading too much into it. But every ‘supportive’ message leaves you feeling rather bruised.

How to handle her

Disarm her by parrying her comments with kindness, suggests Shah. But even peace fellows have their limits. ‘I tend to have a three-strikes rule. Be kind, be kind, last time to be kind – and then it’s time to extract myself.’

The credit-stealing colleague

There are two types of office MMG. The first is the head of the clique: she doesn’t insist everyone wears pink on Wednesdays, but she might as well. Sometimes, these cliques are hierarchical; at other times it’s more insidious. The second is harder to spot – and she thrives in the age of hybrid working where your visibility in the workplace has to be more strategic. She’s smart, successful, charming – and has an absolute genius for spin and acquisition, notably your work for her benefit. Often
renowned for ‘her’ great ideas, which originate from other people. She’s never outwardly unkind, always seems supportive, yet quietly and consistently undermines you. Let’s call her the Acquisitor.

How to handle her

Eschew seething resentment, however tempting. ‘Always maintain composure and professionalism. Be friendly to every clique member, especially the leader: it sets you apart,’ advises forensic and behavioural psychologist Dr Angela Smith. She suggests approaching the Acquisitor calmly. Think question not accusation, eg, ‘Can you help me understand why you tend to say “I” about work we worked on/the idea I suggested?’

The WhatsApp fiend

Ah, the curse of WhatsApp. We are over-saturated with groups: the school chat; the girls’ weekend; the hen do. And then there’s the splinter groups – those smaller, subgroups that the MMG creates on the side with a certain person or two deliberately left out for the sole purpose of discussing
them. It’s a febrile environment and there’s always that one person who stokes the flames of dissent and indignation, or whips up collective hysteria.


This is where mean-girl-itis (a genuine affliction) is catching – because casual witticisms can inadvertently turn into cruel jibes and spiral into toxicity. Before you know it, you’re worrying you’ll be MMG’s next victim if you don’t reply with a crying-with-laughter emoji (or a coffin if you’re Gen Z) at their snide comment about a mutual friend. Also see the colleague who is always WhatsApping you nasty commentry during a Teams meeting when, actually, you thought Laura’s idea was pretty good.

How to handle her

Simple, says Smith. ‘There’s always one who tends to be confrontational, and the best thing is to adopt the rule of no engagement.'

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