I grew up being the only girl in a house with three brothers. Therefore, on any given day in my house someone was clobbering someone else. Usually it was in fun, but sometimes it was just the way my brothers had of dealing with conflict. Of course, being the youngest and only sister, my involvement in the frays consisted merely of one of my brothers putting his hand on my head and holding me at arm's distance while my little arms flailed into the air between us. They seemed to find that ever so amusing.
Since I had no sisters, I had no early exposure to the covert warfare that some girls practice. Girls won't usually slam your head into a wall, but they'll casually say something so biting that later, when it dawns on you that it was an insult, you'll want to slam your own head against a wall. (I'm making a generalization with the sexes here, so if you were a Gandhi-like adolescent boy or a Mike Tyson-like girl, I apologize.)
I mention these differences because I grew up somewhat appreciating the straightforward ways of handling conflict that my brothers (when they were young and unruly) practiced. The cause of the conflicts was always clear and clean-cut and once it was over, it was over.
Now fast-forward a few years and picture me in the corporate environment. It goes without saying that when one has an "issue" with someone at work, one cannot walk over and bop that person upside the head. And I'm not in any way recommending that. But the corporate environment can be more like the girls' locker room in junior high school. There's invariably an "in" crowd, people can be pigeon-holed very quickly and irrevocably, and if your parents won't let you shave your legs until you're 14, gym class will be a nightmare. (Oops, strike that last one.)
It sometimes takes great stealth and Machiavellian planning to get a simple problem solved in a corporate environment. People are often reluctant to go to the source of a problem for fear of career repercussions. Sometimes the fear of conflict can cause problems to fester forever. I can appreciate the fact that we lose some of our rudimentary and barbaric behaviors as we age and mature, but why do we have to lose the good part too? There's something to be said for directness—this includes having the guts to express your own thoughts and opinions, as well as being clear on what the expectations of your boss and coworkers are. Corporate employees can't exercise that directness with a fist, but they don't have to live in a psychological fetal position either.
What do you think? (Or are you still grossed out over that leg-shaving reference?)
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.