War at the office!

How are you supposed to deal with serious conflicts at work? What are your choices? Do you have choices? What are the risks? Should you take sides?

Office Wars are created by people who handle situations badly. They're never 'necessary'. They're also frequently a result of bad management, not shutting down problems before they become wars.

The most normal setting for an Office War is some issue or person that causes disagreement. Friends and associates take sides, and the situation develops, extending into other issues, often dragging in more people.

This doesn't always become a major problem, but it can create the environment for real trouble if any problems arise where one side will attack the other.

It will affect business, and does nothing for job satisfaction. Being on the wrong side of an Office War can affect careers.In some cases Office Wars are started by career rivalry, and the only certain losers are those in the crossfire.

One of the reasons for the emphasis on 'teamwork' and 'relationships' is that management and business studies are well aware of how destructive Office Wars can be.

Despite all the hype, Office Wars are still common, and they're preventable.

Case study: Staff wars at ground level

A worker is accused, wrongly, of theft. The case is disproved, but the accusation has created some very bad feelings between the worker and his friends, and those of the accuser, who made an honest mistake, and is in trouble as a result.

This doesn't have to become a big deal, but if anything else occurs, it's defined the sides in the Office War.

Management, if not aware of the infighting, can make things a lot worse, by taking sides. The matter should be settled, permanently.

Executive level wars

Two executives are fighting for different options. They're ambitious, careerists, and they go looking for support to sell their option to management. Those who assist are friends, those who support the opposition are enemies. If one of them becomes senior, the enemies are in trouble.

This is a particularly useless situation, and quite common.

Management should tell both of them to shut up, and definitely not to go lobbying staff for support, and get independent, honest, advice from its own staff without any office politics.

Personal Wars

Some people just do not get on. Put them on the same planet, and they'll start a war of some sort.

The one common factor about wars is that whoever starts them, for whatever reason, other people get hurt.

Any two people, at any level, can start a personal war. Staff can victimize staff. Supervisors can victimize staff. Managers can victimize supervisors. The result is that neither can trust the other, under any circumstances.

It makes for a very dangerous , unsafe, workplace. A lot of people have been killed in retaliation for victimization. Others have had careers destroyed, jobs lost, and a wide range of personal trauma, purely because of personal conflicts on the job.

Equally dangerous in its way is the fact that the workplace becomes a very risky place to try to have a job. Employees are expected to back up one claim or another by opposing sides. In some cases they're expected to lie, or even commit perjury.

The level of danger to those in the crossfire goes up dramatically. If found to be lying, the job's at risk. Perjury can put people in jail for years.

How to handle Office Wars

Don't take sides. Sympathize, whatever, but make it clear you're not part of the battlefield. Whoever comes out on top can't hold it against you, and the loser can't accuse you of being part of the problem.

Don't lie. The quickest way to get some peace is to get a reputation for honesty. Few people will risk giving sensitive information to someone who'll just pass it on to anyone who asks for it.

Make sure management has some idea what it's dealing with. The other side of honesty is that in desperation management will go looking for facts. Trying to identify the problems will require accurate, unbiased, information at some point, however long that may take. You can help put things in perspective with some accurate information.

Don't spread rumors. Gossip is usually damaging to someone, and even if you innocently repeat what you've heard, remember that you could be helping create an Office War.

Don't believe rumors. Gossip is also spread for a reason. Check any information you get, but don't pass it on.

Even if it's a friend, be honest. Lying makes things worse, and anything you say, if proven false, will hurt your friend, and probably hurt you, too.

Even if it's someone you don't like, be honest. Same principle, but your own trustworthiness is on the line. If your information can't be trusted, you can become unemployed.

Office Wars really just shouldn't happen.

Management can stop them before they start, and make it clear that people will work as a team, or not be working at all.

The only way to stop Office Wars is to deal with conflicts promptly, as they arise, and make clear decisions about them.

Ironically, just basic good management practices would solve most of the problems. Enforcing discipline where necessary, being fair, consistent, and impartial, and observing the equal employment laws would be enough.

It's time management got out of the meetings, and did some managing.