At work, is your preferred method of conflict resolution a) confronting the problem head-on, b) avoiding the situation altogether, or c) sinking your teeth into the soft flesh of a coworker’s arm? If you answered c, you’re mostly alone. But not entirely.
This week, a woman wrote in to the website AskAManager.org to ask for advice after she bit her colleague. “Obviously,” she wrote, “I’m mortified."
She explained that the coworker in question was the office manager who, over the years, had created a toxic and dysfunctional tone at the office, and at one point even allegedly cursed at the woman and called her a child because she asked him not to say that she was prettier if she smiled. He then didn't speak to her for a year which, she said, was a relief.
On the fateful biting day, the woman was walking into a meeting with another coworker, her arms full of paperwork and a mug of coffee, when she found the office manager standing in the doorway, his arm stretched across the opening. She explained she had a meeting, and according to her, the office manager replied "I don't give a sh*t" and "it wasn't his problem."
The woman said normally she would sit and argue, but this time... "this time I bit him. I don’t know! His arm was in front of my face, my hands were full, I know from experience he almost never moves, and I’m reaaaaally busy right now."
What happened next was even more shocking.
In any case, I bit him, over his sleeve, pulled back, and we just sort of stared at each other for a second, because … wow. He finally got his feet under him, figuratively, and retaliated by stomping on my feet (I was in ballet flats and he had heeled dress shoes) and shoving me. As I’m regaining my balance and trying to save my feet, I dropped my mug, which shattered. At that point, he stopped and bent to pick up the shards. I ducked into the office and shut and locked the door. Not helping him pick up the shards angered him more.
She later apologized to the office manager (who did not apologize back) and told AskAManager.com she felt like working in this office was warping her perception of normal behavior, and asked how to deal with difficult coworkers in these situations.
The Manager advised the biter first and foremost to start looking for a new job immediately, to apologize to the coworker who saw the incident, and to do her best to not stoop to that level again. But also, seriously, look for another job.
The internet, predictably, had some feelings. There was some disagreement over who was more to blame in the situation, but there was consensus on one point: GET OUT.
So, the next time your coworker takes too long at the water fountain, or talks too loud on the phone, remember that biting probably isn't the answer.