7 Ways to Deal with Office Drama
Everyone knows the drama kings/queens in the office. They’re the ones you dance around. “Don’t upset Barry.”
Drama queens go to the boss rather than colleagues to voice complaints. Drama kings walk into offices and close doors behind them.
Office drama dominates weak, stagnant organizations.
Negative behaviors you tolerate dominate.
Office drama is about control. Emotional turmoil is the tool.
7 goals of drama kings and queens:
- Prevent change. The fear of creating drama prevents change in stagnant organizations.
- Undermine another’s advancement.
- Destabilize growing relationships that feel threatening.
- Power. People losing power use drama to regain it.
- Control. Things aren’t going the way they should. Let’s stir the pot.
- Turf. “Get out of my area.”
- Appreciation. Unappreciated workers create drama to invite acknowledgement. “I’m sorry you’re upset. You’re important to the team.”
Office drama distracts focus, drains energy, and demoralizes teams. Drive to excel shrinks in the face of emotional turmoil. Watercooler conversations waste time.
Leaders who listen to drama invite drama.
Deal with drama. Don’t listen to it.
7 ways to deal with office drama:
- Ask, “What do you want?” NOT, “What’s the matter?”
- Pursue a culture of transparency and candor. Drama thrives in secrecy.
- Choose results over procedure when possible.
- Stay focused on what’s important today.
- Train teams in conflict resolution.
- Celebrate diversity.
- Ask, “How will this conversation make us better?”
Bonus: Don’t reward drama kings by giving them too much attention.
What strategies help leaders deal with drama kings/queens?
It’s the 80/20 rule; unfortunately too often backwards.
Rather than spending 80% of their time with star performers, leaders mistakenly reward these energy vampires with the most attention. It’s a great way to create a revolving door for top talent.
Thanks Bill. What a great use of the Pareto Principle.
Instead of greasing the squeaky wheels, why not try greasing the other 3 wheels! More than likely, they are carrying the bulk of the load anyway and would appreciate a little attention.
Thanks Duane. Truth!!
Don’t neglect the great people who are doing great work because someone is being a jerk. The magnetism of the negative can hinder progress.
I’ll add, the power of negative situations that are left unchecked is devastating.
#1 is a huge deal, and no offense to women, but at least where I am in a primarily female environment it has derailed and stagnated many things. As a guy mixed in a department with middle-aged and older women, I avoid office drama like the plague. The last thing I could afford would be to get involved or be the center of it.
I’m not saying guys can’t be drama kings, but there are so few of us here in the company that it would be really hard for us to complain incessently and get away with it.
What I have found though, is that if you don’t give those drama people what they want, and you refute their “its not fair” claims, they eventually leave or get forced out because they gave up. It doesn’t happen overnight, but in the last year and a half, I’ve seen at least half a dozen drama “masters” leave. It is much more peacful now than ever before.
Thanks John. Your last paragraph encouraged and sobered me. I started thinking about the difficulty of seeing drama people changed. When drama has been the way someone has been getting what they want it’s hard for them to change their ways.
Timely post given current situation client is facing. The power of the questions you gave are the key to transforming the situation.
Thanks Jeff. Questions are more powerful than statements because they inspire thought and invite response.
Here’s a twist — and something I consider an even more difficult challenge and potentially more damaging: How would you handle office drama when your manager is the drama king/queen? (Not all of us get to lead from the top.)
Simple, do my best inspite of them.
EA. ps if I choose to let others dictate my decisions my consequences are due to my choices, not the choices or behavior of others.
I, if I find myself with consequences instead of benefits is because of the choices I made, then there are results and the way I feel depends on what story I tell myself about what those results mean.
To take 100% response-ability requires epic response- ability.
Yep have to out big boy pants on.
Thanks Scott. That’s a sticky one, for sure!
No easy answers from me. One thought. Drama begets drama. Stay calm. Respond quietly. Rather than speed up when the drama starts, relax.
Be transparent, candid, kind, optimistic, and flexible in your interactions.
On my team we have the saying that if there is office drama occupying our time, there are more workers than we need to accomplish our objectives.
Bingo!! Thanks for adding that Paul.
Well, don’t wrestle with the pig in the mudpit. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.
If one has their own house in order they choose to engage in silliness or stay above the fray.
I learned awhile back what disturbs me most about others behavior is I see myself in it.
Like if I run across a person who is habitually late….what I feel is how uncomfortable I feel when I am running late.
Instead of recognizing I am upset because that behavior triggers something in me. Says something about me, not them!!!! Maybe they are cool with being late.
All part of having ones house in order. Trivial stuff don’t matter.
It is possible to be an interested observer instead of a diaper wetting reactor.
Just my two cents worth.
Thanks Scott. One of the most challenging ideas is how we see ourselves in others. What irritates me about them is likely in my life. OUCH!
Interesting blog Dan.
I would like also to read your opinions on the “queen bee” syndrome!
Thanks Marie. If you read below, Marlene gave some feedback to the queen bee syndrome.
Any suggestions for getting out of the Drama cycle if a department has gotten into it?
Thanks JB. Treat it like any culture change that matches your organization. Start slow. Recruit a small team. You definitely need people in the upper levels of the organization to be on board.
Explain why the present is unacceptable and explain what a win looks like. Be sure you and several others have a clear picture of what you want. Explain it in behavioral terms. How will see the better world when it starts to appear.
Please just think of this comments as ideas. Any firm suggestions need more information.
I agree that people neglected play drama to invite attention. They do so to create feeling that they are concerned for the organizations. The ones who listen, encourage them generally. I appreciate your question to deal with drama queens ” What do you want”. This question actually forces drama makers to reveal their feelings. The fact is that they will not tell what they want. They will in fact flounder. Such practices actually sucks the energy from honest and deserving employees. And they are more tend to leave the organizations. Sooner honest people leave the system, drama makers start gaining more power as they believe that their strategies are working.
I have seen many time, drama queens create problem when employees either do not much interact with others or generally concerned about their work.Drama queens take the advantage of such behavior and represent the distorted picture in front of superiors. They fuel fire when they listen and become curious to know more. I think such curiosity should be minimized and I agree with your suggestion to ask direct question to drama queen. This can discourage them to repeat such behavior. Drama queen flourish when they get space to being listened to.
I strongly believe that leaders can control such drama queens by setting strong measure of accountability and reward system. Every one should be accountable for what one says about anyone. And there should be reward mechanism for honesty, hard work, merit and performance. There should be equally strong mechanism to deal with backbiters,liars, rumor mongers and whisperers.
People should be measured against attitude, integrity and authenticity. Such parameters will definitely deal with drama queens.
Thanks Ajay. Or should I say, Dr. Gupta?
Your suggestions about curiosity got me thinking. There is a useful kind of curiosity and an useful. Perhaps sympathy vs responsibility is the contrast.
Of course I love this conversation because of my book, Stop Workplace Drama. 🙂
Marie asked about the Queen Bee. Why does the Queen Bee do what she does? The answer: Because it works.
The one with clarity navigates the ship. The Queen Bee is clear about what she wants, and she gets what she wants, no matter how disruptive to the overall vision.
As long as the behavior is ignored or allowed, the Queen Bee simply does what she does because it works.
MC, great stuff!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Folks only continue their behavior if they are getting a payoff!!!!!!!!!!!!
Brilliant answer!!! Skillful in its simplicity
Thank you Scott!
Glad to see you Marlene. I wondered if you might stop in on this one.
Your comment reminds me that the reason we see ongoing negative behaviors in organizations is they work. They get people what they want.
Letting them work is a leadership issue. A leader who stands up and expects big boys and girls to act like big boys and girls, give courage to the team.
I’ve noticed that drama queens are usually very friendly with the boss.
Thanks Never. Absolutely! They need the boss on their team. If not, they can’t get away with their negative behaviors.
Thank you Dan for all of your work! As a new teacher, the last three posts will go right into my practice.
I particularly like: Ask what they want – not what’s wrong. Not only does that flip the responsibility completely, but it might help these people learn to solve problems one day!
Thanks Frank. It’s a pleasure to be on the journey with you.
It’s easy to get caught up in the drama and miss the end game. You should see the surprised look on people’s faces when they are asked, What does it look like if you get what you want?
In addition, things really shift when you ask, “What are you willing to do to get what you want?”
Thanks for a well-timed post. Recently an employee left the company due to the stress, but was requested to come back from a resource standpoint. This person should help drive change in a specific area yet no one wants pursue it since we can’t “upset Barry.” Resistance to change is tough to overcome.
Thanks Alex. You bring the perfect illustration of an organizational bottle neck. No one wants to upset Barry. Barry is the bottleneck. Best wishes
So appreciate your observation. There is always resistance in all drama. (Resistance being the unwillingness to accept what is or the inability to see another choice.) No one is willing to upset Barry.
Nothing happens until there is willingness. Willingness is the fulcrum point of change.
“Don’t reward drama kings by giving them too much attention.” True, but I think you should have added, “however be prepared to deal with the challenges brought on as they turn up the volume.”
Thanks RW. You’re on the money. Drama is the way some people get what they want. If they don’t get what they want, they, as you say, turn up the volume.
Drama kings and queens are insecure individuals .They justify their behaviour with their own incompetence and bullying. Its pretty sad when bosses themselves who are equally insecure and unwilling to progress because of their own fear of change. To all these people, I would wish them the best and move on. No point wasting my time and life trying to deal with them , if the company that I work for does not appreciate and see the potential that I have, it’s their loss. At the end of the day, I intend to maintain my sanity!
Thanks Choong. From a personal point of view, your strategy may work. But, leaders can’t shut their eyes to people who disrupt organizations with drama.
Leaders are in the best position to address office drama. Some choose to quickly stamp it out with a no tolerance rule, for example.
I agree with you, Dan. Unfortunately, not all leaders adhere to this. When company bosses , where my boss is the owner of the company and actually profit through this behaviour of conquer and divide and dramas, there is no way one can actually change the situation. It takes a lot of courage in life for leaders to be leaders. There are more followers than leaders. Sometimes, I personally think that leaders themselves have no idea what is the meaning of leadership!
Great article! This topic hits close to home for me. It can be difficult to accomplish goals when dealing with the drama queens! One quick note, under Danger: “Watercooler conversations waist time.” Should read: “Watercooler conversations waste time.”
Thanks Lyndi. Fixed!
If only I had read this three years ago. Life would have been much easier at the water cooler. Solid advice. Rings true from my experience. Thanks for sharing.
Great article and comments. Some of the drama makers actually think they are helping and they need feedback. I have seen great changes when they are faced with the facts. From creating drama and prevent innovation to building pride.
Thanks Yvonne. Love how you look for positive motivations and directions rather than just reacting against. Cheers
Thank you:-) I really enjoy your articles and the dialogs. They inspire me when I blog and tweet about leadership in Norwegian.