I think that there’s a lot more truth to this cliche office joke than we usually consider when we laugh uncomfortably at it.
Humans, like other animals, organize into packs or heard hierarchies, and hierarchies are about dominance and submission.
So when we have to be organized according to an office organizational chart or cliques in school, there’s a complex interplay of biological and social factors that is underneath the basic social heirarchy of a given environment.
When we have to spend time, energy, emotions in these artificially formed environments – like a workplace – where dominance is not arrived at through natural processes, but artificial selection of hiring practises – conflict is inevitable.
Especially when the artificial hierarchy is at odds with the natural group dynamics that factor into dominance and submission roles. Something that the human resources concept of “best fit” isn’t capable of dealing with.
Our brains and bodies are ideal for a hunter/gatherer existence – and our biological responses to stimuli, especially threats, danger, intimidation and dominance/submission are no different than what our ancestors experienced.
But, the artificial social structures do not allow for such primal responses – no matter how effectively those responses would assist in smoothing out interpersonal conflict.
After all, what person would continue to make snide remarks, be obstructionist or offensive, if they knew that they risked a single open handed smack in the face? Or…
I have to wonder, how many headaches and other stress symptoms are because we are overriding our natural responses to the point where we’ve convinced ourselves that our bodies no longer respond naturally, that there’s something wrong with our glandular response to what is really, unnatural stimuli.
Because it’s not natural to allow dominance when it’s not been earned, it’s not natural to respond respectfully despite how we are treated. It’s not natural to be submissive to people who lack the personal dominance that’s needed for the position that they occupy.
This is the problem of managers who have power because of their position, and not because they have the position because they have the personal dominance to have earned the top spot on the organizational chart.
Managers who demand, but not command, respect, are more likely to abuse their power because they don’t have any personal power, haven’t learned and understood the meaning of power – which is more than getting your way because you said so – but real leadership of earning trust and respect, of respecting and honouring those they manage.
Of understanding that power limits the personal freedom and that power must be exercised in a balanced and fair way across the group – lest it continue to slip away, lost in a mass of interpersonal conflict, mutual antagonism and, if unchecked, unresolved, a disfunctional workplace.
It’s no wonder that people are so frustrated, angry, raging even, when our society has so many artificial environments where we are subjected to unreasonable stressors as if they are normal and acceptable and having to suppress our natural responses for fear of social or criminal sanction – and these sanctions provide an arena for some people to act out their frustrations in passive or not so passive non-physical aggressive means – gossip, snide comments, innuendos, even outright cruelty – as long as it’s never physical.
It’s become so bad that there’s hundreds of workplace and schoolyard fatal violence incidents every year – and this is a terrible thing to allow to become a norm – because it only validates fatal violence as a reasonable response – such as suicide bombers.
I don’t know if there’s a way to improve self control across society, but it seems like there’s less and less stopping bad behaviours that inspire worse behaviours.
Perhaps glandular responses should be a legal and legitimate defense, because it certainly would seem the lesser of social evils to be legally allowed to open handed strike someone once or even – given that posturing and fighting is the norm to establish dominance – physically fight each other as long as there’s no objects used; than to allow stressors to build to a response that is violent and out of proportion to the events that incited it.
Certainly, if it’s true that 1 in 25 managers might be psychopaths:
The survey suggests psychopaths are actually poor managerial performers but are adept at climbing the corporate ladder because they can cover up their weaknesses by subtly charming superiors and subordinates. This makes it almost impossible to distinguish between a genuinely talented team leader and a psychopath, Babiak said.
Then the people who make it on charm rather than skill and ability or other factors that play a role in leadership/dominance; make the workplace even more difficult to manage for people who have typical emotional and glandular responses to stimuli.
Psychopaths, who are characterized by being completely amoral and concerned only with their own power and selfish pleasures, may be overrepresented in the business environment because it plays to their strengths. Where greed is considered good and profitmaking is the most important value, psychopaths can thrive.