All drama is about something that’s hidden.
– David Mamet
A while back I was managing a group of entry-level employees who never seemed to lack in the drama department. One older woman would decide not to speak to the younger team members, just because. The youngers took this quite personally and at some point they’d end up in my office in tears.
Then there was the chronically late, attention-deprived team member who showed up after the rest of the team pretty much did his work. Drama ensued. Eventually I fired him for simply not being able to get his card key on the reader by 8 am for 30 consecutive days.
And the gal who was convinced everything was a conspiracy. Convinced someone was reading her email, leaving her anonymous notes by changing her screen saver message overnight (but oddly never kept it to show anyone). Every conversation had at least one sentence that started with, “You won’t believe what I heard from the VP of Something or Other.”
The Problem With Drama
Drama is intensely distracting. Largely it’s negative, and always it’s unproductive. It’s kind of contagious. Collateral damage lands on everyone.
It’s certainly a challenge as a manager.
Colleagues also get dragged in and spun around in it. When you’re caught up in workplace drama you’re not doing your real work, and before you know it, you’re not leaving work on time. And then you’re feeling a little stressed out about both.
Maybe you’ve experienced some of this colleague driven drama in your workplace:
The Gossip Monger
“Someone heard” … there’s going to be a layoff, a new manager, someone’s getting fired, no one’s getting a raise, etc. The Gossip Monger is never productive, always negative. They repeat gossip over and over, often without any substantiation, and zero attempt to deal with actual facts.
The Drama Queen (or King)
Male or female for whatever reason, the Drama Queen or King has a high need for attention, the spotlight, the focus and they drain everyone’s time and energy. Or they intentionally work to stir up trouble.
The Chicken Little
The sky is always falling with the Chicken Little, and it’s always negative.
Everything’s being done to them, against them, and there’s some huge universal conspiracy that keeps them spinning and is firmly rooted against their success. And the Victim loves to talk about it.
So what can you do when dealing with these workplace drama stereotypes?
Let’s start with the basics: Whether it is the drama queen, the gossip monger, or the victim, you can’t control other people. But you can control your response to them. Think of workplace drama as an opportunity to hone your self-advocacy, assertiveness and boundary skills.
Here are 5 ways to cope with workplace drama:
1. Walk away.
Just get away from negative people, gossip and falling skies.
- “Oh hey I just remembered that [phone call I need to jump on | stuff I left at the printer | the meeting I need to prep for].”
2. Just say no.
Here are 2 ways you can back away from a gossip monger or bad news bear:
- Express helplessness. Shrug and say “I can’t help you with that one. Sorry.” Then, smile, and ask an unrelated question to clearly change the subject.
- Establish your personal boundary: “You know, I don’t really like to talk about stuff like that, it’s not really any of my business anyway.” Then ask an unrelated question to change the subject.
3. Tell others what you need.
Let others know you want more positive engagement in your day.
- “Hey, I’ve noticed that every time we chat, the conversation is really focused on the negative. I don’t know about you, but I really need a lot of positive conversation around this place. Tell me about something that’s going well for you.”
4. Check for facts.
Drama queens and kings often have little regard for fact. When I hear something in the outrageous, or questionable, category, I push for fact.
- “Oh, wow, that doesn’t sound right. Is that a fact? Or did you just hear that from someone?”
5. Give them feedback.
Sometimes peers are the best to give feedback. Gently let people know how their behavior affects the rest of the team.
- “You know, Pat, when you go on and on about bad news, the new folks on the team find it really upsetting. Maybe you can tone it down a bit.”
- “Hey Jackson we all know you have a big workload. In fact, we all do. If you’re that overwhelmed and overworked, maybe you should talk to your manager about it.”
Action step for you: Next time you get sucked into a workplace drama, try a new technique to deal with it, instead of being frustrated.
Then let me know what happens.
When you take a constructive approach to Workplace Drama, you’ll be working the Positive Shift!