In my decade as part of the workforce, I have never seen a verbal altercation in the workplace; with one exception. My first job was at the department of public works and one of the many interesting stories I got from my time there was the occasion when two coworkers got into a shouting match. You’d expect it to be over work ethic, department policies, or scheduling like who was in line for overtime, but it wasn’t. The two used to be best friends, but a decade previous to the confrontation, one married the other’s sister. The one guy never forgave the other and there was always tension. Personally, I never understood why the one guy was so upset his friend married his sister, but I felt awkward being present.
A recent study showed 30% of executives and employees argue with a co-worker at least once a month, with a small percentage of those becoming emotional shouting matches.
When a big fight takes place in Corporate America, it is not unusual for the impact to be office wide. In the open office configuration where closed doors are often a rarity, these confrontations between coworkers are typically a public event. Rather than getting popcorn ready and taking a ringside seat, it can be very awkward for onlookers.
Simply witnessing workplace incivility (described in this blog post) is detrimental to observer’s performance on both routine and creative tasks because it drains cognitive resources (some suggestions on how to replenish them here) and interferes with memory. If conflict occurs in the presence of a customer, there is only a 20% chance a customer will subsequently buy something. Those are significant negative effects on productivity and sales.
If a conflict occurs in the workplace, try to keep it private. Your conflict should not affect others on your work team or in your department. Furthermore, if someone else is having an altercation and you have the opportunity to remove them from public view, do so with alacrity. After the conflict has been resolved, it is important to talk about the conflict to resolve any lingering animosity. This communication is important to take place within the entire team so everyone knows there is a strong working relationship. Unresolved tension can have residual effects on the entire team. At a time where lean staffing is commonplace and productivity is of the utmost importance, conflict resolution is becoming a valuable skill.