December 20, 2011
Office drama causing trauma? Nip it in the bud
Whether it’s back-stabbing gossip, whining or bullying, drama in the office saps energy and wastes time.
If you don’t address it, then you are counting on “the four-letter word ‘hope’ that it will get better -- and it rarely does,” says Jim Warner, who along with Kaley Klemp wrote “The Drama-Free Office: A Guide to Healthy Collaboration with Your Team, Coworkers and Boss.”
That book says four primary drama roles emerge most frequently in office settings. Think of office divas as the “four C’s”: the Complainer, the Controller, the Cynic and the Caretaker.
While we may hate the whiny Complainer, the judgmental Cynic and the micromanaging Controller, even the conflict avoidance of the nice-guy Caretaker has its drawbacks.
Caretakers often don’t have the courage to stand up to others, even when they are right, Warner says. Plus, their willingness to take on any task to win approval means they can’t be counted on to complete a job on time.
At the book’s website, dramafreeoffice.com, you can take a self-assessment drama survey to find out your “drama tendencies.” That helps you with the first step in making your workplace more drama-free: cutting back on your own. Knowing your weaknesses, you can move on to steps for helping others:
Diagnose the type of drama in the other person. You can’t treat a Controller the same way you treat a Complainer; you must know which type you are dealing with.
Assess the risk of confronting the other person. Warner said sometimes a boss has to step in with a much harder line, running the risk the person who is told about unacceptable behavior will leave. That can turn out to be a good thing, he says, as offices flourish once drama is diminished.
Develop rapport with the drama-prone person. Over time the person will begin to trust you, and you can coach him on his behavior. “Trust is the major antidote to drama,” Warner says.
Have a direct conversation. Stay dispassionate and be clear and concise. “Most drama-prone people do not want to be pinned down,” Warner says, so the conversation will probably be emotional. Before you start, Warner suggests asking permission before offering advice. “Are you open to some feedback?” is a good way to begin.
Get a commitment. This is where things get tricky. The drama-prone person is likely to avoid change and accountability.
Validate and anchor the commitment and new behavior. Follow up with an email or note going over the discussion and praising the person’s commitment to change. Ask her for her own written summary of the discussion.
Warner says that most drama-prone personalities have to be monitored to prevent recidivism. “The real key is to catch ourselves when we fall into debilitating behaviors,” he says. “Catch yourself and shift back into a collaborative state.”
What if you aren’t in a position to effect change or have tried and failed? Warner says it is still important to make sure you do not get sucked into another person’s drama and that you maintain clear professional boundaries. “If your energy is getting drained, then it’s your fault,” he says.
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