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How to Free Yourself from Office Drama

employees-fighting-110802-02 Credit: Dreamstime.com

Had enough of the office drama? You're not alone. Workplace personality problems, disagreement, gossip and infighting are keeping American workers from getting things done.
Kaley Klemp and Jim Warner, business coaches and advisers, have written a new book called "The Drama-Free Office: A Guide to Healthy Collaboration with Your Team, Coworkers, and Boss" to help you get beyond the drama and get back to work.

[The Seven Deadly Sins Go to Work and Employees Suffer ]

Get out of your own drama. — One of the most difficult challenges for aspiring leaders is to "own their stuff" by acknowledging their own responsibility for relationship shortcomings.  So, 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 is more difficult. It requires the vulnerability and courage to seek others’ candid observations and advice about your behavior. To find out your own drama tendencies, you can reflect on your characteristics, ask your colleagues their opinions, or take a drama-assessment test.  You can only help others when you are curious yourself. Take a deep breath, get re-centered and get out of your own way.

Diagnose the type of drama in the other person. — Once you are committed to authenticity and curiosity yourself, you can determine what kind of drama the other person is 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.

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.

Have a direct conversation. — While an entire article could be written about direct conversations, when confronting a person about their drama, stay dispassionate and state "the facts" clearly and concisely. Also, present the meaning you derived from the facts (i.e. your perceptions) and any emotions you experience — usually some combination of fear, anger, guilt or embarrassment. Share with the person how you contributed to the situation (why it's your fault, too). Then, finish with a specific request. Usually these conversations end with an agreement about what will happen next to make sure the drama ends.

Get their commitment. — The last step of the direct conversation is to state your specific requests or expectations of the person. 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.