Conflict Management in Office Space, Essay Example


  1. Avoidance as a major approach to conflict in Office Space (p. 3).
  2. Passivity, ambiguity, and pieces of flair: just what the hell does Stan want? (p. 3).
  3. Indifference, incompetence, and an organizational culture of do-the-bare-minimum-necessary (p. 4).

Beyond doubt, Office Space is a comedy about dysfunction in the workplace, notably with respect to conflict management. The central conflict pits protagonist Peter Gibbons against the soul-leaching horrors of his workaday existence, as epitomized by his thoughtless and condescending boss, Bill Lumbergh. Tellingly, one conflict management strategy Peter attempts is avoidance. His neighbor Lawrence explains it to him after Peter predicts that Lumbergh will ask him to work on Saturday: “So, all you gotta do is avoid him… on the last few hours on Friday, duck out early, turn off your answering machine… you should be home free, man” (IMDB, n.d.). This is, of course, a decidedly passive approach to resolving conflict. Typical of passive approaches, it does not actually solve the problem (Carter, 2006, p. 5). Another example of this is the way in which Lumbergh, Dom Porter, and the ‘two Bobs’ handled Milton Waddams, the “squirrely looking guy” who “mumbles a lot” (IMDB). Bob Porter explained that Milton had actually been laid off, but he was never told this. At this point, Bob Slydell explains that they fixed the glitch whereby Milton had hitherto received his paycheck. But when Dom Portwood asks the obvious, namely if Milton has been let go, Bob Slydell responds: “We, uh, we fixed the *glitch*… so it’ll just work itself out naturally” (IMDB). “We always like to avoid confrontation, whenever possible,” Bob Porter adds (IMDB).

In the world of Office Space, bosses generally have no redeeming features. Joanna, the pretty waitress with whom Peter is enamored, has an ineffectual boss who can’t be bothered to communicate directly and unambiguously. He sort-of-not-really takes her to task on her “pieces of flair”: “Now, you know it’s up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare minimum” (IMDB, n.d.). “Okay,” Joanna replies. “So you… you want me to wear more?” (IMDB). Stan, the manager, can’t manage to communicate the goals of the organization clearly: should  Joanna wear more than the minimum fifteen, or is she really allowed to make that determination? It’s a passive and ineffectual communication style that breeds conflict and resentment due to ambiguity. Moreover, the interpersonal strain is enhanced by Brian, the obnoxiously cheerful and peppy waiter whom Stan the manager clearly favors (Collins, 2009, pp. 8-19, 39-40).

The key reason that Initech, where Peter and his friends Samir and Michael work, is such a dysfunctional workplace is that these extremely passive approaches to conflict are coupled with an almost total indifference to the wellbeing and happiness of employees. Lumbergh and others run Initech in a dominating manner, evincing no real regard for employee wellbeing, and trying to boost productivity with corporate slogans and the introduction of the dreaded “Bobs”, the “efficiency experts” who decide to terminate Samir and Michael, dishonestly get rid of Milton, and push the excitable Tom Smykowski into a dramatic meltdown and a suicide attempt. Consequently, neither Peter nor much of anyone else at the organization is really motivated to do anything more than they have to do in order to not get fired (Desivilya, Somech, & Lidgoster, 2010). The poor approaches to conflict management and resolution that Initech’s indifferent and often ineffectual leadership have bred in the company have produced low job satisfaction for essentially all employees (Weider-Hatfield & Hatfield, 1995, pp. 695-696). Indeed, Peter lays this out rather pointedly to the two Bobs, after a hypnosis session gone tragicomically awry leaves him in a blissful state of indifference to anything unpleasant. He points out that not only has Initech not motivated him, it has created a remarkably dysfunctional corporate culture: he has eight different bosses, all of whom tell him when he’s made a mistake. “My only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired” (IMDB). What this demonstrates is the importance of good conflict management skills and approaches in order to facilitate communication and harmonious relations by resolving differences between people.


Carter, G. L. (2006). How to manage conflict in the workplace (2nd ed.). New York: American Management Association.

Collins, S. D. (2009). Managing conflict and workplace relationships (2nd ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Desivilya, H. S., Somech, A., & Lidgoster, H. (2010). Innovation and conflict management in work teams: The effects of team identification and task and relationship conflict. Negotiation & Conflict Management Research, 3(1), pp. 28-48. DOI: 10.1111/j.1750-4716.2009.00048.x

IMDB. (n.d.). Office Space (1999) Quotes. IMDB. Retrieved from

Weider-Hatfield, D., & Hatfield, J. D. (1995). Relationships among conflict management styles, levels of conflict, and reactions to work. Journal of Social Psychology, 135(6), pp. 687-698. Retrieved from