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How to Deal with Pettiness in the Workplace
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Written by Tom Fowler   


Pettiness is one of the more annoying facets of the human condition. Fortunately, pettiness, unless it escalates into something more sinister, usually fosters more aggravation and nuisance than whatever the situation is worth. Here, we will discuss petty behavior in the workplace, from both a worker and management perspective.

Things You Will Need:



Positive attitude

Step 1:

One source suggests that pettiness is any situation indicative or reflected by narrow interests and sympathies. That is a good definition and pretty much describes pettiness as I have experienced it over the years throughout my professional career.

Step 2:

Petty behavior in the workplace is subtly different than the pettiness one may experience with family or friends. Petty behavior in personal relationships is, for the most part, usually nothing more than a persons or persons behaving in the childish and immature way in which we are all capable. However, at work, more is going on than meets the eye as we will see in the following steps.

Step 3:

Many years ago I installed and maintained business telephone systems. I found it convenient to call clients from my desk in the office. In those days, there were no cell phones and most public pay telephones were in noisy locations. But, my boss did not like for me to do this. I asked him why and his answer was, “because (his supervisor) does not like to see outside technicians in the office during working hours.”

Now, it did not matter that I was performing my responsibilities in an efficient manner; the boss’s boss did not like to see me and my peers in the office and that was that. You see what I mean? Pettiness originated by somebody in the corporate environment can have a much greater impact than that which may be between individuals.

Step 4:

Anyone, from the CEO down to the newest junior ribbon clerk, can be guilty of petty behavior. It is another aspect of our very flawed human condition and is just another thing we struggle to overcome in this life. One of the best ways to negate pettiness is to establish an excellent professional reputation and maintain rock solid credibility. If you have done this, chances are that both superiors and subordinates will hesitate to impose petty behavior on you or your people.

Step 5:

If you are a manager, resist the temptation to be petty with someone who is a poor performer. Pettiness will only make matters worse. For sure, do not impose pettiness on your better employees. For instance, do not take issue with anyone who will, occasionally, take 16 minutes of a 15 minute coffee break, or someone who makes an occasional short personal telephone call from his or her desk. These are but two of many examples I could cite. The point is: pick your battles with anyone in the office or workplace wisely. Some things simply are not worth whatever momentary sense of glee you may feel in rattling someone else’s cage.

Step 6:

If someone is being intentionally petty with you, you may wish to tolerate it to a point, but only to a point. Unaddressed pettiness often leads to more hostile behavior. A clerk may habitually forget to relay messages to you, or inform you that the boss wishes to see you. A co-worker may take 2 hours for lunch, causing you to miss yours. Addressing these issues directly with the offending parties can save all concerned with increased animosity and bitter feeling. Professional behavior and attitude must be constantly nurtured and maintained. It is very easy for something such as a petty mindset to settle in.

Step 7:

Petty behavior in the workplace is, in the end, no different than the myriad of other interpersonal challenges we face in our work lives. Fight anything negative with positive action, attitude and professionalism. There is a reason the top companies are at the top. They work constantly to keep negativism in all its many faces at bay.  


Do not allow a superior to use you to inflict grief on subordinates. Again, we are not talking about serious issues which often require coaching or even disciplinary action. We’re talking about pettiness, and it is for you to resist it. If you are new to your company and have not yet established yourself, this may be hard to do, but now is a good time to earn respect from those you work for.

If you are a manager, never forget that your people can ruin your career by doing everything exactly as you say with no deviations. Inasmuch as is possible, keep pettiness out of your relationship with them.

It will be easier for you to advance in your career by refraining from habits which will lesson your stature in the eyes of those around you. These include gossip, petulance, excitability and – petty behavior.


Petty behavior is one thing, mean-spiritedness is another. You are wise to know the difference. 

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