Contents Under PressureWe’ve all seen it, or something like it:

“Get your stinking hands away from my end-of-quarter Power Point presentation!” shrieks the embittered administrative assistant, and suddenly—battle is joined.

Office infighting is one of the most destructive wastes of time and money in the corporate world today. The resources spent battling such actions (and cleaning up the resulting messes) are mind-boggling. Hyper-combativeness in any supposedly civilized society leads to all sorts of problems… but in a presumably-cooperative business setting it can bring down the whole deck of cards, one corporate department at a time. To paraphrase a painfully over-used 1990’s catch phrase: can’t we all just get along?

Maybe we homo sapiens are all hyper-competitive super-monkeys responding to ancient, deeply-ingrained biological survival pressures passed down to us from the earliest days of human tribal interaction. But there may be other factors in play. Factors more subtle, and more insidious.

I suspect that in many cases office politics might simply be a way for otherwise uninspired and unmotivated employees to fight boredom.

By turning the office environment into a game board, an otherwise-disassociated employee might believe he or she is taking control of that environment by reducing it to a simple win/lose scenario… one far more compelling and interesting than simply doing the job for which one is being paid. Especially when juxtaposed with the artificial excitement and imaginary relevance of our assorted personal wish-fulfillment fantasies.

Since the invention of human language people have craved distraction, enthusiastically absorbing overwrought soap-opera drama via exposure to available entertainment media (like suggestive cave paintings, gossip-covered rune stones, and salacious songs and titillating tales told by bards, troubadours, or any other storyteller with a saucy anecdote). We have all been encouraged to believe our normal, humdrum daily interactions are woefully lacking in tumultuous, overblown antics that would theoretically make our lives more “important.” The tabloid press, penny dreadfuls, gossip radio, scandal sheets, and lately our paparazzi-fueled film and television industry have perpetuated the myth of “ridiculously dramatic living,” selling us grandiose visions of triumphs and turmoil from our latest celebrity heroes and villains, regaling us with the jet-setting excesses of various famous “combined-name couples” du jour. Recently the media machine has gone a step further, spawning a whole new crop of entertainment franchises under the hopelessly-ironic misnomer “reality programming,” wherein painfully unprofessional non-actors are coached and manipulated to sell the illusion that their lives are ridiculously dramatic and oh-so-much-more emotionally engaging than they actually are.

It’s no surprise that people come to work all revved up on that type of emotional rocket fuel and proceed to engender personal drama of their own, in emulation of the same hyper-dramatic behavior they have watched for years on TV . In this supercharged atmosphere, even the tiniest infraction or annoyance can become the opening shot in an antagonistic office-battle of epic proportions. Nor is it always openly aggressive, workplace blitzkriegs that cause the most trouble; sometimes the worst havoc is wreaked by the most subtle and ninja-esque of hostile behaviors: the passive-aggressive intrigues of employee vs. employee sabotage.

In those cases, war is silently declared and chaos ensues. Copiers are allowed to run out of paper and toner. Emails and memoranda are misdirected or misplaced. Invitations to vitally important meetings are ignored or never issued. Good ideas are irrationally squelched because they are not the intellectual property of the squelcher, and workable solutions to persistent problems are purposely never implemented, thus depriving a hated personal rival some measure of success.

We all have the occasional bad hair day or experience setbacks that might cause us to define our personal environment in terms of a battlefield or war zone; but some people feel compelled to take it a step farther and wage covert corporate warfare against their own team members, in a misguided attempt to assert dominance or gain some measure of superiority. Luckily for everyone else, such behavior, if overt, often backfires on the antagonist. UNLESS upper management ignores such behavior or (worse still) openly encourages it.

That approach is always a mistake. There is a reason the military term “loose cannon” is often applied to such an individual— like any untethered piece of artillery, they are unpredictable; allowed to roll around the firing line, unrestrained, they will eventually blow a giant hole in the corporate masonry. Whether supremely talented or disappointingly inept in their chosen profession, anyone who would rather utilize their paid work time and personal energy inventing new ways to torpedo fellow employees needs to be sacked. No one wants to share a foxhole with someone who can’t be trusted. Nor should anyone want to be trapped in an elevator with such a person… because that elevator is always on the way to the basement.