Taming Workplace Drama

I recently presented a 45-minute workshop on controlling drama to a packed room. We had to turn people away. I’d like to believe it’s because I’m awesome* as a presenter, but the truth is that we have too much drama in our lives, and it is making us tired — everyone wants a way out.

But nowhere is drama more exhausting than at work. Here we are in an environment with (usually very high) expectations for our performance, and our attention and energies are being siphoned off by unnecessary tension and trauma. And yet, some people seem to be able to rise above all of that and succeed. How do they do that?

Here’s a quick tutorial on handling work drama and getting back to work.

  1. Recognize the drama. Sometimes it starts as someone just casually complaining about someone else — the kind of thing we hear around the coffee pot all the time. Sometimes it comes at the end of a meeting where someone feels like they went unheard. These things are so common that we never stop to question: is this drama unfolding? The answer is frequently “yes.” Complaining about someone behind their back (which is usually at the heart of the drama) serves no purpose other than to create drama. Call it when you see it.
  2. Recognize where you are. Did you just hear it? Commiserate? Agree? Essentially, you need to recognize: are you on the inside or the outside of the drama?
  3. Stay outside the drama. If you are on the outside of the drama (you just heard it), you can refuse to get into it. Walk away with a shrug or a non-committal sound, and you are done.
  4. Step away. If you’ve already put yourself inside the drama (said something that has made you an “ally”), walk away to put some literal distance between you and the drama — clear your head so you have room for a new perspective.
  5. Consider what is really best. We often think that we are being a good friend (or coworker) by siding with someone in the drama. In reality, we know that drama does nothing to promote a professional image or get our work done. To be a good friend, we need to help our friend move out of the drama. Ask yourself: what would be best for them in this situation? How can you help that friend resolve the issue causing the drama?
  6. Know when to walk away. Some people just love the drama, even when it isn’t good for them. Recognize when someone just doesn’t want help, then walk away and stay outside of it. Will you lose that relationship? Possibly, but would keeping that relationship help or hurt you?

While workplace drama is inevitable, we don’t have to join the cast. Stay out of it, and you get to keep your energy, attention and reputation focused on the things that matter.

* Ok, I really am an awesome presenter. 😉

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