If you are an organizational leader, I am sure this title captured your attention. I define workplace drama as the negative emotional charge that distracts and interferes with productivity. People are emotional beings, and they don’t check their feelings at the door of the workplace. People bring their ups and downs with them, and some even create more of the same on the job. Here are some practical suggestions to help you address this common workplace challenge:
Be aware that each person has a different perception of “normal”. Some people live in drama all the time. It seems that nothing in their life is ever calm. Upset, negative emotion, reaction, tears, stress, devastation, outbursts…. for them it’s all a part of “normal” life. When you begin to communicate that such negative drama is unacceptable and must be eliminated, you are challenging their definition of normal. They just think you “don’t understand”.
Your leadership challenge is to move people from allowing their emotions to rule their actions and words. They must come to see that though emotions are to be acknowledged, they must not be allowed to dictate words, attitudes and actions! Though feelings help indicate what is happening, thinking should drive what happens. As the leader you need to communicate that your team is not going to be run by their feelings, but by their thinking. People’s feelings will be considered and even embraced when helpful and appropriate, but they will not run the show.
A key communication principle that will help you gain rapport with a dramatic person is sincere, empathetic listening. Seek first to understand their world by closely listening just to understand them. This takes patience and skill, especially when dealing with a feeling-oriented person. The ultimate goal is for them to learn how to focus on their responsibilities, tasks and commitments and less on how they feel. If you truly demonstrate your care for them by understanding them this transition is more likely to occur. Listen to them. Understand them. Care about them. Even do your best to feel their experience.
Once they sense you understand them, you can begin to confront the issue. In clear and kind words, you must lay out what must change. They must understand and agree that their outbursts, whining and long-winded sorrowful stories about their life, along with all the negativity and gossip are inappropriate and unacceptable for this workplace. You must help them see that though you understand that they have difficulties and problems and care for them, their personal problems belong to them, and are not the property of the company or team. The negativity and distraction are unacceptable and grounds for discipline and possible dismissal. As the leader, you must decide what is unacceptable and clearly create agreements with your team members around those values.
Require team members to resolve their issues. Make yourself available to help them create a resolution. Once you start requiring people to resolve their issues, you will be amazed at how often problems disappear. Drama oriented people often don’t want resolution to “problems”. If you require them to resolve issues, they will often see the pettiness and silliness of many of their complaints. They are now accountable for their words and comments about others. If the issue isn’t important enough to confront and resolve, then it must be dropped. PERIOD.
Finally, realize that appropriate emotion is good…excitement about accomplishments and winning…new babies, fun vacations, graduations, achievements. Even difficult life circumstances such as illness and death can provide an opportunity for team bonding, support, encouragement and empathy. The bottom line is that negative workplace drama can be eliminated. You don’t need to just accept it as “just the way things are!”