Jealousy and Territoriality in the Workplace

There are times in every company when people "butt heads" with each other whether subtly or overtly. These conflicts, if persistent, can become detrimental to the business and should be addressed if possible.

If you are a manager or co-worker of the conflicting parties, you can have a positive effect on tension reduction. If you are an underling of one or both parties, hide under the desk and avoid the crossfire unless you have an exceptionally strong relationship with a "superior".

If you are in a position to help, there are two things to do: gain understanding, then take action.

The understanding part is interesting, especially if you watch National Geographic specials on tv, or on your phone if you are exceptionally wired. Doesn't it seem that the non-alpha males are always butting each other so they can get chummier with the alpha and mate with better gals?

Those head-butts can look quite ferocious, and indeed they should. The young bucks are fighting for nothing less than the optimized survival of their line. It is not a laughing matter for them. They may not die if they lose the conflict, but their progeny will suffer in number and quality.

And of course it goes without saying that the more determined, capable and intelligent of those bucks will win the conflict and over generations, alphas and wannabees will be naturally bred with those traits in spades.

To enormously simplify a point, your workplace sparring partners may be enacting the essential primal drama of survival. Morphed, twisted and filtered through millennia of the human experience, but underneath it all, a head-butt in the prairie.

Here is what there is to understand:
1. The feelings run deep and strong and for good reason. We're talking nature here.
2. If it is an unequal match and nature takes its course, the little guy will get clobbered and should slink back to his cubicle, licking whatever body part he can reach.
3. If it a pretty equal match, the contestants will need either an open venue for the final battle where a clear winner will be established, or they will need to be separated.

Here is what there is to do:
1. As a manager, understand that a certain amount of competition is good for the herd, uh, company. But beyond that the company can suffer. If the manager perceives that there are more negatives than positives to the competition, he (or she) should remember the alpha role and head-butt the boata dem (Chicago-ese for "both of them") until they remember who is the big boss.

Example: "Guys, your behavior is making it hard for others to do their work and is creating a bad atmosphere around here. Shake hands and get on the same team, or take your problem to another company."

2. As a co-worker, understand that ultimately the herd survives if it cooperates and stays together. As much as competition may advance the individual, true cooperation advances the whole company. Then you can be vocal about these ideas which will encourage the rest of the tribe, I mean the business, to also express them. Eventually it will seep into the thickened sculls of the contestants.

Example: "I am getting very tired of our work being interrupted by the feud between those two. It is taking our minds off of what we really need to be doing. If they keep it up, we are all going down the tubes. We should pull together."

Mark Meshulam, of Northbrook, IL, USA designs business productivity software and authors articles on subjects related to workplace productivity.

Mr. Meshulam holds a Masters Degree in Group Dynamics from the University of Illinois, and owns a prominent construction company in Chicago.

He draws from these experiences in formulating unique software applications which address problems actually found in the workplace.


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