A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
November 21st, 2014 by William

Banging Your Head Against a Wall

We’ve all heard this metaphor before–most likely at work. I remember at one time actually having a sign on my office wall that had a target and the inscription “bang head here.” You feel that you’re banging your head against a wall when things are driving you so insane that you just feel like, well, literally banging your head against the wall. That’s because in some perverse way that seems to makes more sense than dealing with whatever is driving you nuts. I know I’ve felt that way on occasion–more times than I care to remember. We all joke about it but in joking about something there’s always a sliver of the truth. We use this phrase to somehow metaphorically communicate our true feelings that we’re frustrated with something or, someone and we really would like to strangle them. Unfortunately we can’t go around the workplace saying we want to strangle someone regardless of how much they may deserve it–human resources doesn’t particularly like that. So we use the colloquialism “banging our head against a wall” instead.

So what happens in our daily work life that causes our frustration level to rise to the point of wanting to do bodily harm to ourselves? I can think of a few right off the top of my head as they are the kinds of challenges that always drove me nuts. They are:

• Poor communication throughout the organization (up, down or sideways)
• Fiefdom syndrome firmly entrenched in the organization
• Sociopathic, narcissistic management
• Ass-hole, bully bosses
• Poor strategy or poor tactical planning by management (the organization really doesn’t know where it’s going)
• Non-stop work conflicts
• Constant change

The first five are indicative of a poorly managed (I’m hesitant to use the word “lead” here) organization. They are all the earmarks of a dysfunctional organization and the simple solution to this is to find another job, however painful that prospect may be. Ironically job hunting is another process that leads one to want to bang their head against the wall.

Unlike the first five, the next item: “conflict,” on the other hand, is the real culprit in making us feel like banging our heads against the wall. That’s because dealing with conflict (the stress that results from it) can actually give us a headache–just as you’d get from literally banging your head against the wall. Workplace conflict is probably the biggest factor in our unhappiness at work and can be debilitating especially when it’s non-stop.

There are two basic types of workplace conflict–task or work-based conflict and relationship or emotional–based conflict. Both exist in the workplace and we’ve all faced both kinds of conflict. I’m going to make a bold statement here in that, for the most part, task–based conflict isn’t the kind of conflict that has a lasting impression on our ability to cope with our job. Occasionally we may get frustrated over a task–especially if you have a boss that’s given the same task to two people in his perverse interest to create competition. Note that in that case it actually becomes the second type conflict that I’ll talk about in minute. My point is that task–based conflicts can usually be solved without too much emotional frustration–the kind that makes you want to bang your head against the wall, or more appropriately bang someone else’s head against a wall.

Examples of task–based conflict might be where employees disagree about work-related task issues; including goals, key decision areas, procedures, and the appropriate choices of action they should be taking. While these may include conflicts between people they fall short of actually becoming the second type conflict; “emotional–based conflict.” Emotional–based conflict is conflict that results from how people relate to each other–how they get along with others–their behavior. Emotional–based conflict is much more complex because you’ve now entered into the realm of the psychology of how people behave. It becomes much more frustrating because there’s never a clear answer when two people can’t get along.

Emotional–based conflict is evidenced when employees have interpersonal clashes characterized by anger, frustration and other negative feelings (like wanting to strangle each other). It’s most often spawned by all the games people in the workplace play against each other to gain personal advantages. In the end however, each type of conflict affects our job performance and our feeling that we’re only banging our head against a wall.

The last factor on the above list: change can also be another cause of workplace frustration, especially if we don’t like the change or it’s a change taking the organization in the wrong direction. Statistically about a third of us are innately adverse to change, or changing, in any form–we tend to love the status quo. Of course the frustration level that comes from an organization undergoing change depends on whether it’s elected or forced.

Just like with conflict there are two basic types of workplace change: routine versus non-routine. Routine change can happen because of any number of events that frequently happen in an organization. For example change can be forced due to structural change of the organization (the need to “reorganize” that I talked about a few weeks ago), cost cutting efforts (which in most organizations is an on-going perpetual process), and business process changes (which are usually closely associated with cost cutting changes). An example of non-routine change might be an organization undergoing cultural change. We all know that changing an organization’s culture is an extremely difficult and frustrating thing to accomplish. That’s because everyone in the organization is affected. Also attempting a culture change exacerbates all the bad behaviors present in any organization and brings conflict right to the forefront.

Unfortunately, in most organizations (every one I’ve ever been in) conflict and change are on-going and daily events. The key to keeping our sanity and not literally banging our heads against a wall is to pause and understand exactly what’s causing our frustration–conflict or change. Change is something that will always be there and embracing it is the only way to effectively cope. Conflict however, is something that you can elect not to participate in–i.e., you do have control over whether you engage or not.

The bottom line is that during your career you will have to deal with both conflict and change constantly. Some of it will be minor but a good majority will be the kind that makes you want to bang your head against a wall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reload Image