7 Steps to a Drama-Free Office

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7 Steps to a Drama-Free Office

By Kaley Klemp and Jim Warner

Drama: the energy-draining behaviors or exchanges that keep us from what we really want to or should be doing. All the infighting, water-cooler talk, meaningless meetings, turf wars, pouting, rants, and other behaviors block positive, productive interactions in organizations.

These seven steps can help ensure you and your team avoid drama to create a more enjoyable and productive workplace.

Step 1: Get Out of Your Own Drama: One of the most difficult challenges for aspiring leaders is to acknowledge their own relationship shortcomings.  Before you can guide others, you must take inventory of both your interaction strengths (i.e., where you uplift relationships) and the ways you sabotage relationships. The strength inventory is usually easy. The sabotage inventory requires the vulnerability and courage to seek others’ candid observations and advice about your behavior. To find out your own drama tendencies, you can use self-reflection, ask your colleagues, or take a drama-assessment. Take a deep breath, get re-centered and get out of your own way.

Step 2: Diagnose the Type of Drama in Others: Once you are committed to authenticity, you can determine what kind of drama others are displaying. There are four primary drama roles that emerge most frequently in office settings: the Complainer, the Controller, the Cynic and the Caretaker. You’ll need to use different strategies for different personality types—there is no “one size fits all” antidote for drama. Will they respond more to direct confrontation and setting boundaries (better for Controllers and Cynics), or to appreciation and encouragement (better for Caretakers and Complainers)? Know who you’re dealing with and tailor your approach to maximize your chance for shifting their behavior.

Step 3: Assess The Risk of Confronting the Other Person: Before meeting with drama-prone colleagues, you must identify and evaluate the potential downsides of a confrontation. Without objectively assessing these risks, you might be tempted to either accept a dysfunctional relationship you could have salvaged or make a misstep you could have avoided. So, before launching into a direct conversation with your boss or a team member, consider the possible side effects (e.g., nothing happens, it gets worse, they abruptly leave) and whether you’re willing to face them.

Step 4: Develop Rapport with the Drama-Prone Person: It’s important to establish rapport with the other person so she is best prepared to receive your message. Try opening with a blend of connection, appreciation, ground rules, and expectations. Your goal is to get the person’s full attention and to set her up to be receptive to your ideas. People prefer to collaborate with those they know and like, so this step is powerful in setting the tone for the rest of the conversation.

Step 5: Have a Direct Conversation: Stay dispassionate and state “the facts” clearly and concisely. Also present the meaning you derived from the facts and any emotions you experience – usually some combination of fear, anger, guilt or embarrassment. This next part is a little tougher. Share with the person how you contributed to the situation (why it’s your fault, too). Then, end with a specific request. Usually these conversations end with an agreement about what will happen next to make sure the drama ends.

Step 6: Get Their Commitment: A commitment to realize these expectations without excuses, sarcasm, self-pity, or martyrdom is often difficult to obtain from drama-prone people. They’ll dance around the expectation or rephrase them in vague terms. These deflection or evasion tactics are a self-protection mechanism that help the dramatic person avoid both change and accountability. Don’t get hooked. Reiterate both your specific expectations and your need for the drama-prone person’s commitment to meet them. If she continues to resist or deflect, be prepared to calmly lay out an ultimatum, including specific rewards for meeting objectives and consequences for missing objectives.

Step 7: Validate and Anchor Their Commitment and New Behavior: Praise the person for her positive behaviors during your meeting, and honor the commitments she made. Follow up with a short note or e-mail confirming and affirming the person’s commitments.

After completing these seven steps, you’ve done the hard work. Now you can redirect your team toward an office free from drama.

Kaley Klemp and Jim Warner are the authors of The Drama-Free Office: A Guide to Healthy Collaboration with Your Team, Coworkers, and Boss. Find them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and read more about them at DramaFreeOffice.com.

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