Avoid Drama at Work

I saw a really great quote a few days ago from the American Management Association, “You will only be remembered for two things: the problems you solve or the ones you create.” I think this is one of the most powerful pieces of career advice one can get.

It could be said that the main reason you have a job is to solve a problem. In contrast, those who create problems are less valuable to the boss and to the organization, and thus, are the first ones out. In fact, this might be THE equation that determines your career success: the problems you solve must be more impactful than the ones you create.

It seems simple, but we’re often not aware of the problems we create. People might brush it off, or cover for us, or otherwise avoid confrontation. Additionally, even when you are not the cause, drama at work can sneak up on you. There are politics in your organization. You might have gossipy co-workers. Before you know it, you’re involved.

When it comes to venting about your personal life, set boundaries. We spend a lot of time with other people at work and we build friendships with each other. This often leads to sharing our happy news as well as our problems with coworkers. But oversharing in this department can cause others to lose respect for you or may give them reason to judge you on something other than your job performance. In the midst of a bad day, you may not be thinking about how what you say to whom affects perceptions. It is possible to engage in these conversations and still remain professional, though. Decide where to draw the line before you cross it.

When people vent to you about their personal life, maintain boundaries. Similarly, others will talk to you about their personal life. Even if you never overshare, constantly empathizing and consoling can be a distraction and can be seen as enabling. If it’s within the boundaries you have set, by all means, listen, provide advice, and perhaps even take your coworker out to lunch to help them feel better. But once the discussion has crossed the line, turn it back to a work-related topic or otherwise find a way to exit the conversation immediately.

When people vent to you about others at the office, keep from getting emotionally involved. For many of us, talking about a conflict out loud can help us find a solution. Thus, simply listening can often be a pretty good response. You don’t want to appear like you are taking sides though, and the best way to do that is to not show much of an emotional reaction one way or another. They say there are three versions to every story: his side, her side, and the truth, so consider multiple perspectives. Steer the conversation towards conflict resolution and provide advice only if you are asked.

Avoid being one of the 4c’s: complainer, controller, cynic, or caretaker. According to Kaley Klemp and Jim Warner, authors of “The Drama-Free Office: A Guide to Healthy Collaboration with Your Team, Coworkers, and Boss,” taking on one of these roles drains the energy from your team, promotes dysfunction, and hinders collaboration and synergy.

Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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  • http://www.pmhut.com/ PM Hut

    Hi Eva,

    From my experience, the person who encourages the drama is usually the manager, and not the employee. A question that usually starts this whole drama thing is something like: “Hey Lisa, I see that you’re not performing greatly in the recent weeks – is there anything wrong?” So Lisa starts to vent, and then the manager discovers things that he didn’t want to discover in the first place (Lisa’s feeling towards him that may or may not relate to work, for example). Avoiding to be close to your employees is a key step towards eliminating drama, that can have a deteriorating effect on the quality of work environment.

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    Eva Rykrsmith Reply:

    Thanks for adding your perspective! Yes, certainly the cause of the drama can come from anyone in the organization and the article applies equally to managers. I’m not sure I understand your comment though. In your example, I don’t think I would fault the manager for attempting to address a performance issue. I do favor setting and maintaining boundaries rather than avoiding personal interaction completely. In my experience, much good can also come from getting to know the people you work with–trust, better collaboration, a stronger network, new friendships–things I wouldn’t want to miss out on.

    [Reply]

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