I’m always amazed to hear the stories of how people subtly fight at work. Through procrastination, gossip, stonewalling, and other passive-aggressive methods, co-workers can find clever ways to obstruct progress while appearing helpful.

So much conflict can be hidden under the surface of our actions and conversations. In the theatre, this is called “subtext.”

Here are some examples of ways employees fight while smiling. Names have been changed but the scenarios are true.

1. Creating obstacles. “Tracy” is a talented office manager, but if she feels slighted, her ability to solve problems comes to a screeching halt. Suddenly, numerous intractable obstacles appear. If one is solved, another emerges. Some coworkers have called Tracy, “controlling” and they complain of her micromanaging. Others have learned to keep Tracy “in the loop” and report no problems. They have realized Tracy’s need to feel needed. While some coworkers are stuck in constant battles with Tracy’s procedures, others have found a coworker with incredible talents and a powerful work ethic.

2. Stonewalling. “Joan” feels insecure in her new supervisory position. Because of this, she confesses (to her closest friends) ongoing suspicions of her colleagues’ motives. Because Joan is convinced that most of her staff are against her, she rarely listens to their concerns. Instead, convinced that they want her to fail, she schemes to achieve her goals without her staff’s input. Tracy (see above) works for Joan. Can you imagine their battles? While friends sometimes challenge Joan to question her beliefs, their words make little impact. Joan’s fear overrides every other message.

3. Gossip. “Carla,” also works for Joan, and like Tracy, values being included in decision-making. Carla detests Joan’s autocratic style and has grown to want her boss to fail (those fulfilling Joan’s greatest nightmare). Carla gossips about Joan and has predisposed many in the organization to dislike the new supervisor.

Joan, Tracy, and Carla also have different working styles. Carla and Tracy like order, predictability, and security. Joan likes spontaneity, risk, and quick decisions. As the supervisor, Joan hasn’t taken the time to understand her staff’s need for structure. Joan is certain of her staff’s defiance, but she is unaware of how she has helped create it. Because Joan assumes the worst from Carla and Tracy, she has never tried to discover what these women need to function at their best. Instead, Joan relies on brute authority and her staff finds ways to thwart her goals.

How does fighting manifest in your workplace?

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