There may be ancient evolutionary impulses behind modern-day office politics. If human nature is shaped by our monkey pasts, and the tens of thousands of years our species spent as hunter-gatherers, we might want to use some 100,000 year-old solutions to fights over the printer, snarky sysadmins, and lateral promotions. In that spirit, Stanford neuroscientist and author Robert M. Sapolsky offers Lifehacker some lessons from human prehistory to solve modern-day office dilemmas. How to get a promotion and keep it? Sapolsky gives us this a tale from baboon life:
Big sharp teeth and lots of muscle have tons to do with which males become high-ranking; social intelligence and impulse control have everything to do with which males remain high-ranking.
What's the best way to keep an office relatively conflict-free? Hunter gatherer society has the solution already, says Sapolsky. He explains that if you want group cohesion, "small social units with lots of opportunity for reciprocity (as well as for punishing non-reciprocators) work best." He adds:
Amid that emphasis on stable small social units, provide mechanisms for fusion-fission—i.e., the small groups having frequent interactions with others, having the opportunity for tensions to be solved within group by being able to move away from the group for awhile. Among lots of hunter-gatherers, you don't settle the fight with someone by punching it out. You go and hang with your cousins in the next valley for some time instead.
This is a great idea, and is already implemented in companies like Google, where people work in small groups that often shift and reform.
Finally, if you still can't resolve a dispute with an office-mate, Sapolsky gives one catch-all solution:
From lots of primate species we learn that grooming other people for any parasites on them always makes everyone feel better.
Hm. Lifehacker does not recommend that you groom your co-workers for parasites, no matter how much they may need it. A good modern-day translation might be to do something helpful.
Want more advice? Read Sapolsky's latest book, Monkeyluv: And Other Essays On Our Lives As Animals. Photo by Stig Nygaard.