When Mean Girls Grow Up . . . and Join Your Group


[Today's post is by Sue Bates. Sue is a Groups Director for women's groups at Buckhead Church. She'll be contributing to the blog regularly on topics related to leading women. But, honestly, there's a ton of wisdom here that applies to men too. If you're a guy, don't miss what Sue has to say. —Ed.]

Have you ever felt like your small group meeting is like a scene from the movie Mean Girls?

“I'm sorry that people are so jealous of me, but I can't help that I'm so popular.”

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. In fact, I think most women’s groups experience great relationships and great community right out of the starting gate. I’m not big on gender stereotypes, but I do think women have an edge when it comes to developing relationships. Most of us are just plain good at friendship. We share our thoughts, our stories, and our lives fairly naturally. Let’s just say we tend to be more relationally savvy than men . . . most of the time.

So, what is it that often seeps in and begins to wreck these relationships? Us. The more we trust one another, the more our false masks come off and the messiness comes out. If left to run amok, that messiness can derail relationships.

If the relationships in your group start getting ugly, what can you do to get things back on track?

Acknowledge what’s happening.
  • People are messy. Women may be less overt and more prone to try to manage their messiness than men, but as we move towards authenticity in community and the masks come off (a good thing), the gloves can come off too (not a good thing).
  • We have big logs in our eyes. In Matthew 7:3, Jesus asks, "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" These “logs” keep us from seeing others clearly. We tend to see them as flawed versions of ourselves. And that usually means we're too harsh with them and too lenient on ourselves.
Respond with leadership.
  • Model healthy relationships. Be humble. Love more. Assume the best about others. When a group members sends you a long email venting her frustration about another member of the group, don’t email back. Call her. Set up a face-to-face meeting over coffee. At the meeting, listen. Follow the model of Matthew 18:15 and encourage her to have a discussion with the source of her frustration—a discussion that is humble, loving, and assumes the best about the other person.
  • Deal with the individual, not the group. If one person consistently blurts out hurtful comments, don’t send a general group email about respect. If she doesn’t have the self-awareness to recognize her comments are hurtful, she doesn’t have the self-awareness to realize the email is directed at her. Talk to her individually about what it’s like to be on the other side of her. It won't be an easy conversation, but if you handle it lovingly and with her best interests at heart, she'll grow . . . and you'll grow as a leader too.
  • Leverage the Group Agreement. Maybe the mean girl has never been part of a group of women that were for her. She may come from a background where it's every woman for herself. Be patient. Show her a different paradigm. The Group Agreement describes what a healthy group looks like. Embrace that vision, and use the Agreement to help your group members embrace it. No exceptions. Your primary responsibility as the group's leader is to help your members move towards those kinds of relationships. That's what it looks like to love well.