Petty Workplace Fights

petty workplace fights Workplaces can be petty. Once a group of people are on the clock, they become inexplicably prone to arguing over anything and everything. For the same reason, siblings can go from laughing one moment to head locking each other the next. Close quarters can do strange things to people.

What causes someone to fly into a fit of rage over a stolen stapler? How can birthday cake result in a scathing, department-wide memo?

At work, you never know what will turn colleagues into modern-day Hatfields and McCoys. Hopefully you can avoid being pulled into such arguments, but just in case you can't, you should know how to handle yourself.

What to remember

Workplace conflicts are bound to occur now and then. Workers take their jobs seriously, and pressure can cause them to be more emotional than usual. If you work in retail and deal with customers every day or you are on the phone making sales calls, you can get caught up in tense interactions.

1. Remember to separate a bad day from good people.

If a customer just screamed at you for 20 minutes because of a store policy you have no control over, don't take revenge on your fellow sales clerk. Before your passive aggressive or outright angry actions begin a rift, remind yourself that the person you're talking to isn't the reason you're angry.

2. Remember that you have to see this person again.

Of course, sometimes the colleague is the reason you're angry, and not letting your emotions control your actions can be difficult. If you want to discuss a situation, wait until you're no longer fired up. Although you might want to act immediately, remember that you're going to be working side-by-side with this person for the near future, so you don't want to say anything that you'll regret.

3. Use the proper channels.

Sometimes a one-on-one conversation is all you need to settle an issue. At other times, you'll need help. Go to your boss or to the human resources department if you need to address an issue that you know could get heated. You want someone to help you and the other person to deal with the issues. You also want someone else involved who doesn't have a personal stake in the issue like you do.

4. Separate the frivolous matters from the serious ones.

Ultimately you have to distinguish between a silly issue and an important one. If your co-worker pulls the top off of muffins in the breakroom and leaves the stump behind. That's annoying, but is it worth a shouting match? Save your energy for the battles that matter.

Based on actual events...

We wanted to hear what petty workplace fights people have participated in, or witnessed over the years. A few of these fights were humorous and others were simply confusing. Here are some of the petty fights that people remember witnessing at some point during their careers, not necessarily at their current jobs:

"My associate and I had a huge fight over whether a certain provision should be added to our boilerplate contract -- really going head-to-head on it, raised voices and career-threats. Turned out that provision had been in the boilerplate for years." -- John Ordover, director of SoHo Gallery for Digital Art

"Staff fighting in the office -- fists and all -- due to sharing news about a raise or bonus." -- Steven J. Elliott, tax director at Schwartz & Company

"Boy, have I mediated my share of silly workplace arguments. One employee was in conflict with a co-worker because the colleague breathed too loudly. Turns out they were sharing a space the size of closet and needed breathing room -- literally." -- Vivian Scott, Author of 'Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies'

"Here at the office, we had set a goal to get a certain amount of visitors for the site for five consecutive days. If we did, our boss said he would put up blinds. Well we met the goal but he kept delaying in putting up the blinds. We kept arguing about it with him for days and he kept coming up with excuses as to why he hadn't put them up yet. Eventually he did get around to doing it, but not after we pestered him non-stop about it -- including IM-ing him with messages that just said 'blinds.'" -- Zach Halper, writer for

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