Reality Check: The Workplace Feud

Do you remember the old western movies that featured families fighting each other for generations? The original dispute is long forgotten, but the hatred continues.
Feuds aren’t confined to families, and one place where they are particularly unhelpful is in the workplace.
Why would people feud at work? Probably for the same reasons that people feud anywhere.
From a choice theory view, you could say that the folks involved are choosing feuding as a way to get their basic needs met. From an outsider’s perspective, one might perceive that feuding is not a very helpful way! However, people sometimes do unhelpful things, don’t they?
In choice theory, the “basic needs” refer to love/belonging, power, freedom, fun and survival. Those needs exist in all of us to some degree and attempting to satisfy those needs motivates our behaviours.
We sometimes find very creative ways to satisfy our needs; even when what we do seems irrational to others, or even to us. For example, how you ever wondered, “Why do I keep doing that?” Rational or not, we act to meet our needs, at work and elsewhere.
Millie and Billy have worked together for a long time. They’ve never liked each other, but recently the antagonism has gotten worse.
Outside of work, there are plenty of sources of irritation. Billy’s wife is on his case for not making more money. Millie’s aging parents need her constantly. Children, school, commitments; there are many factors contributing to both Millie and Billy’s constant frustration.
The need for power—the feeling of being in control of their lives—is going unsatisfied for both Billy and Millie.
Which brings us back to work. Ongoing snide remarks and dirty looks on both sides have made for a nasty environment. The latest incident began when Billy needed some paperwork from Millie. When Millie, already feeling overworked and underappreciated, finally brought it to Billy, she threw it on his table without a word.
Billy got mad. “I’ll show her to mess with me,” he giggled internally. Early next morning, he added a little “feature” to Millie’s computer to prevent it from working quite right. Subtle; but effective. An already-frazzled Millie is now even less productive than before and she doesn’t know why.
After several days of chaos, Billy finally fessed up to his “prank.” This time, it didn’t end with Billy and Millie. Human Resources got involved, discipline was noted, and it became a much bigger deal than either Billy or Millie wanted.
A feud like this, whether it’s between two people or entire teams, reflects that the people involved have forgotten, or never knew, why they are working in the first place.
The company—your employer—has a reason for existing. It’s there to produce a product or service for a customer. Billy, Millie, and everyone else in the company have a role to play toward that end, even if they never come in contact with the customer who ultimately pays for that product or service.
This story can have many possible endings. The feud could continue with occasional flare-ups. It could even escalate to the point where someone gets fired.
Or Millie and Billy could recognize that the satisfying feeling of superiority that they get from aggravating each other is not an effective way to meet their need for power. Yes, it provides a momentary pleasant jolt and meets the need temporarily. But it’s not an effective long-term solution, especially now where there are signs that it could have a negative impact on their livelihood.
Next time, I’ll offer three suggestions for actions that Billy and/or Millie could take to lower the temperature and get some productive work done.
In the meantime, what would you suggest for Millie, Billy, their co-workers or the company managers?

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