Four Simple Ways to Put a Stop to Workplace Drama

drama in the workplace

Have you noticed a bit more drama in your working life? If you have, you’re not alone.

A Lee Hecht Harrison poll launched just prior to the new year revealed that more than 70 percent of respondents believed they are exposed to an increased level of emotional conflict at work. Another 18 percent thought the drama quotient had remained the same, but was still too high. Only 12 percent thought there was less drama.

What could be driving this spike? Outside events could possibly be the root cause. A highly charged, extremely emotional fall election had many of us on edge. It’s hard not to bring some of that to work.

The economy is still suffering from uncertainty. Wages are lagging behind the cost of living, downsizing continues to be a reality in many sectors, and the upcoming year is expected to bring a hike in interest rates. That all adds up to some very stressful times.

And a myriad of time-tested job-related stresses are always pressing our buttons: demands to do more with less; incompetent managers; a constant appetite for organizational change.

However, while dramatic outbursts seem to be more commonplace, that does not mean it has suddenly become acceptable to bring emotional baggage into the workplace.

Drama and the conflict it brings function as a drag on organizational performance. Simply put, employees who are constantly engaged in emotional outbursts make it impossible for anyone to get work done. Previous studies have estimated that workplace conflict costs businesses hundreds of billions of dollars in lost productivity.

With stakes like that, it’s not surprising that workplace drama can be very career limiting.

Moments of high drama tend to stick in people’s minds. It makes managers and leaders see you differently. When it comes to challenging moments in your career, are you seen as an invaluable member of the team and a solid producer, or an employee who tends to get dragged down by every little setback?

None of us can avoid stress, but we can develop self-awareness so that we recognize when our stress is threatening to blow up and boil over. In the human capital field, we call this “shoe-string stress.” Imagine someone having a total meltdown because his or her shoestring broke. Clearly, that was not the event that caused the person to blow up; instead, a slow, deliberate build up of stress finally erupted following a minor setback.

How can you avoid these career-limiting outbursts? Clearly, the first step is to know yourself and what triggers your emotions.

  1. Step away. If you are prone to drama and you find yourself in a stressful or emotional situation, take a break and put some distance between you and the stressors. Don’t re-engage before fully assessing the situation and making a commitment to avoiding any actions you might later regret.
  2. Trust your body. When you start to fall prey to stress, your body will send you signals. Are you having trouble concentrating, is your heart rate elevated, are you jittery and easily startled, is your tone starting to rise? All these are signs that the stress is getting the better of you. And that it’s time to take a break.
  3. Avoid conflict. Sometimes we don’t generate the drama; we get drawn into it. Watch for situations that can pull you into someone else’s negative emotions. Is that five-minute break at the coffee machine just an opportunity for malingerers to make you feel bad about your job? Is the chatter in the lunchroom making you feel anxious and angry? Steer clear of the epicenters of negative emotion.
  4. Self edit. Some subjects are simply not appropriate for the workplace. Be cautious about bringing up politics, religion or any other subject that might spark an emotional confrontation.

The responsibility for controlling and, ultimately, eliminating workplace drama and conflict rests with each individual. Taking some time to recognize the warning signs of an impending explosion, and then employing some deliberate self-regulating techniques, will mean less histrionics and more calm at work.

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