Susan drinks all of the coffee and never makes a new pot. Justin never washes his hands when he leaves the restroom. Karen is a backstabber, and Mark is a chronic adulterer. People get angry with each other at work. Many of us spend more time sharing space with co-workers than family members, and just like summer camp, disputes are bound to happen. Why then, is it so much worse when women fight in the office?
In a study on workplace conflict, researchers found that most office workers view disputes between women to be more disruptive than fights between a male and female co-worker or fights between men. 152 people were asked how they felt about disputes involving a pair of managers, each scenario being the same except for the genders of the couples – male/male, female/male, and female/female.
The subjects were asked whether they thought the managers would repair the relationship later and if they felt the dispute affected company morale. All subjects viewed the disputes between women as being the worst.
The researchers considered the possibility that fights between women are viewed as worse than others because as a society we don’t expect women to treat each other badly and, in a sense, are programmed to think that women naturally support and nurture each other. Another possibility is gender bias in the workplace, with terms such as “catfight” being to blame as well. It was noted by scholars in the study that at present, there is no specific term which labels the fights between men.
In addition to the hazard of being viewed as more disruptive to office life, fighting between women affects hiring and promotions and further exacerbates the myth that women, for some genetic reason, are unable to work together. This hurts everyone in the workplace – managers are reluctant to assign projects which involve two women working together, and women are less likely to speak their minds out of fear of being viewed as “catty”.
When it comes to office disputes, it is probably best to choose the safe option and avoid them altogether. However, if you find yourself in the middle of an office fight, consider who you are having the dispute with and how it may be viewed by your co-workers. If you can avoid conflict at work and solve issues calmly, that’s always the better answer, no matter your gender.
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