When I started writing this post I looked in dictionaries and academic journals for an ‘official’ definition of bitchiness. They just didn’t capture its true essence. Then I found this two word description that said it all.

Indirect Aggression

Bitchiness is so very subtle, and that’s the point.

Generally, the effect is emotional and no one gets physically hurt. If you complain, you fear that you’ll sound childish and oversensitive. Clutching at clouds is easier. Nevertheless, it’s real and it hurts. Many of us, at one time or another, have probably been on the receiving end of it.

Here’s my take on some of the behaviours referred to as bitchiness.

content-image-03The Cold Shoulder

This treatment involves indirect cues which demonstrate you are ‘out’. If you were previously ‘in’ then this may be punishment for breaking the rules.

The cold shoulder can range from coolness or aloofness to deliberate exclusion. Maybe you’ve heard this type of cold shoulder message, ‘You really had to be there … oh but you weren’t were you?’

The Hug Slap

This is a close cousin of The Cold Shoulder. Sometimes you are ‘out’ and sometimes you are ‘in’ without understanding why or when it may change. The point here is that you are kept guessing. That way it’s clear who really has the power.

For example, bitchy colleague gives you a compliment only to follow it up with a put down. Another example is when you are included in social activities only to be deliberately ignored, while at other times you are treated like a BFF.

Acid Drops

These are artfully delivered put downs, including double edged compliments, aimed at damaging self-esteem. One of the prime targets for this strategy is physical appearance.

Imagine this situation. You are wearing a new outfit to work. Bitchy colleague asks if it is new (with a hint of surprise in her voice and a little too much stress on ‘new’). Then wearing a tight smile she says ‘it looks … (long pause as she looks you up and down) … nice’.

The thing about Acid Drops is that the words send one message, but the look/tone/expression of the acid-dropper sends another.

The Knife

This is undermining, casting aspersions or ‘bad-mouthing’, and is sometimes disguised as sympathy or support.

Here’s a couple of examples. ‘Poor Amanda she’s doing her best but ….‘, or ‘Yes …. Robert thinks highly of Amanda’s capabilities …. they are very close, you know .…’.

Honey She Shrunk Me


The key word here is ‘minimisation’. Usually this is aimed at the prey’s contribution or abilities.

Honey She Shrunk Me employs many techniques and is often (but not always) played out in front of others for effect. The public nature makes it a bit more risky for the bitchy colleague because others might see through her.

Visualise yourself giving a really good presentation in a meeting then … up pipes bitchy colleague to pour scorn over what you say or to transfer the limelight to her. Once she has control, she restates what you said differently transferring any kudos to her.

Have you seen this happen? Did it work or did others see through her?

One Common Essential Ingredient

For all of these behaviours context is vital. Bitchy colleague’s tone of voice, facial expression and the setting can transform otherwise unremarkable behaviour into bitchiness. Be wary of your judgements and your responses … what looks like bitchiness may not be … then again it might…

The unfortunate reality is that when women behave in these destructive ways towards other women, it reinforces existing negative stereotypes. That harms all of us. In understanding what behaviours reinforce the stereotypes, maybe we can become more effective at knocking it down.

Have you experienced any of these behaviours?

Please share your thoughts and any constructive comments section below.