Most of us love a good drama at the movies, but not so much at work. Office drama can be draining. It’s hard enough to keep the plates spinning without the added pressure of drama. It seems like finding the right mix of folks is like a science experiment. Unfortunately, in a drama filled environment, we often hire the person who is non-threatening instead of the best candidate. Then one day you look up and wonder how in the world these folks ended up on the payroll!
The root of most office drama is insecurity. The problem is that it’s not easy to see during the recruitment process. You may have a candidate that appears confident and assertive, yet they have social or personal issues that won’t appear until they are introduced into the mix.
Intent can also skew your thinking. In a recent post in Forbes, (link here) Erika Anderson points out that staying positive with others intentions naturally diffuses drama. All you have to do is believe their intentions are good. Seems easy- but for some that live their lives in the negative zone, it can be very difficult to trust that other coworker’s intentions are good.
Many managers see drama as purely a result of immaturity. But it often goes much deeper than that. Many times there are wounds or events from the past that have shaped the person into who they are. Don’t always dismiss poor behavior as simply a result of immaturity.
Many of the deeper issues that result in office drama are not easy to fix. There is likely a long process involved and it may even require professional attention. Aside from the complex cases, there are strategies to address some of the common office strife. Here are a few of them:
Dump the Stupid Rules: Drama feeds off of petty infractions of the rules. As a manager you may think this is counter intuitive. You may be tempted to add more rule when you have drama. The fact is if you give more power to the “rules police” you will only add fuel to the fire. Turn the conversation back to performance. If the person is doing a good job, then give them grace on the rules. Get rid of as much of the petty rules as you can and you will benefit in the end.
Choose Your Managers Wisely: In the book “Managing for People Who Hate Managing”, Devora Zack divides managers into two categories, Thinkers and Feelers. Both can be great managers but you have to understand that they see the world differently and will react differently. Drama feeds off of emotion. It is very important that your managers are emotionally intelligent. They must understand there own emotions and how they are affected by the emotions of others. Just dismissing drama as stupid or silly emotion will not solve the problem. You can’t tell someone who is upset that they are just being a baby. There are great management strategies on how to be empathic, yet not feed the fire. If you have a manager that is unskilled they will react incorrectly and make poor decisions that will only continue to feed the fire!
Watch for Type A’s: The talented and driven are often a target for the drama group. They are threatening to the status quo. They want more. They are used to getting what they want. I have witnessed “the pack” systematically run off talented folks. You need to watch for this and address this as soon as you see it. Find the leader of the opposition and discuss the situation objectively. Reassure them that this person is not threatening their position and reaffirm that they are not going anywhere and they need to develop a good working relationship.
React Well: Be very careful how you react to the situation. Strong reactions feed the drama fire. If there is a situation that needs to be addressed, do it quietly and without fanfare. Be very careful about getting both parties together to “hash things out”. I have done this in the past and have had both good and bad results. Try to respect the position of the person who is upset, but be very careful that you don’t add emotional fuel to the fire.
Watch For Alliances: The office can be similar to an episode of “Survivor”. There are alliances that will naturally form, and you must be aware of who is where. Sometimes you can break up problem workgroups. The main thing is to see through the drama and find the alliance. Seek out the leader and discuss the problem directly with them.
Don’t Let It Smolder: Drama tends to naturally escalate. If you are aware of a problem, it is best to address it quickly. The longer it smolders the group will internalize and the issue will become fact. This is human nature. Find a confidant on the inside and try to pinpoint the issue. The quicker you address the problem the better.
Make Changes: If the drama is always centered around one person, maybe it’s time to make some changes? Office drama is damaging. Don’t be afraid to dismiss a person who continues to cause trouble in the ranks.
Have Fun: Office outings and fun environments can help lessen office drama. When you provide opportunities for interaction with someone outside of work you may find that you have things in common and actually like to hang out together. It’s not uncommon to find out that the person you have a problem with is actually just like you! Don’t forget to do some team building by having fun with your group. This can pay off big in diminishing drama.
The business world is hard enough without having to deal with office drama. Dealing with drama is difficult as it involves people, personalities and emotion which is a pretty scary mix for anyone. As you become more skilled in sensing what is really going on you will be better equipped to address the situation. Devora Zack cautions to be careful in how you address these issues in asking questions. By asking the questions in the wrong manner you can actually reinforce the toxic thinking. Ask questions about the outcome not the problem– i.e “What do you want?” “What will this get you?” “How will this benefit everyone?” The fact is that keen management skills are often the key to killing office drama.
See- we all want to have “peace in the valley”. Work is hard enough- right? So…let’s leave the drama for the movies!