The Joys of Infighting

    Thomas Goebel

    Ah.  Office politics.  That great driver of productivity.

    Let’s have a show of hands from everyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of intraoffice sniping.  Okay.  Good.  You can all put your hands down now.

    After nuclear meltdowns and genocide, infighting is probably the most damaging activity imaginable.  It undermines projects and divides teams.  But know this: it is also the thing that will most likely occur.  As a by-product of human nature, every one of us has encountered it – either in ourselves or in our colleagues.  We are hardwired to want to do better than others and, failing that, to see others do worse than us.

    Talk of bullying is all the rage (pun intended) these days, but not all infighting can be classified as bullying.  For the purposes of this article, I’m going to stick to what is arguably the non-bullying variety.  Essentially, we’re talking about scrapping brought on by good old-fashioned jealousy.  This is something, I dare say, we can all relate to.

    Dossiers and Gossip

    Dossier is a word that’s big in the news these days.  I once had a colleague who claimed to have a dossier on me “this thick” (holding fingers two inches apart).  Needless to say, I felt a surge of pride that anyone would find my deeds – good or bad – worthy of that much attention.  Alas, I never got a chance to see this rumored document and all the juicy tidbits of information about my life.  Fiction, in this case, would have been stranger (and a darn sight more interesting!) than fact.  This story, though, serves to highlight one of the most insidious forms of infighting… gossip.

    Why does gossip even exist?  Where I come from, we call someone who spreads gossip, simply enough, a “Gossip”.  When a Gossip is talking about you, he or she is doing their best to undermine your good works and accomplishments.  Do not fear.  The good news is that steps can be taken.  The bad news is that they don’t take effect overnight.  The most obvious course of action is to continue your hard work with a good attitude and equanimity.  Like sunlight, your deportment will go along way toward dispelling myths that are being spread about you.  Your work will speak for itself.  Eventually the Gossip will be exposed, and won’t have any more ammunition (at least about you).


    The Gossip has a mean little brother.  This is the Sniper.  The Sniper is a verbal attacker, making (often quietly) sly or underhanded comments about coworkers.  Sometimes this is a case of “cuteness gone bad”.  Often, the Sniper is just an older version of the class clown.  The thing to remember, for both the Sniper and his target, is that this behavior can become annoying if unchecked.  Cuteness leads to sarcasm, which eventually leads to misinterpretation.  It is important to let the Sniper know when his comments have become detrimental.  Reverse sniping will not accomplish this.  Only calm, non-confrontational conversation has any chance of disarming the Sniper.


    Many people have experienced a freeze-out – also known as the Silent Treatment – from colleagues.  This retreat from communication helps no one, and contributes to a deterioration of office morale and a corrosive team environment.  All attempts should be made to nip this in the bud, including talking to your silent colleague or, failing that, arranging to have someone (supervisor, trusted coworker, e.g.) act as a mediator so that both parties can air their grievance.  You will be surprised at what can be accomplished in a non-judgmental setting.

    Actual Fighting

    It’s rare for coworkers to engage in physical confrontations, although it does happen on occasion.  Before calling the police (if it comes to that), try clearing the area of people and property that might be hurt through collateral damage.  Situations like these need to be treated very seriously when they arise – the days of getting two combatants to shake hands and make up over a beer are gone.  Dangerous behaviors, weapons and litigation are the new norm, and employees (especially those responsible for the success of projects… this means YOU, Project Managers) need to be extra vigilant.  Pre-awareness goes a long way toward prevention in cases like this.

    Let There  Be Peace

    Harmony in the workplace begins with you.  You know the old saying.  It really does take two to tangle.  Ignoring jabs, snarky comments, and personal criticism directed your way will go further than anything else toward defusing a potential infighting situation.

    And not gossiping, sniping, and freezing people out always helps, too.