There are few crimes that compete to destroy the Soul of Culture more than Workplace Drama. This evil demon creeps across the organization leaving a trail of overwhelmed, frustrated, and upset people. Quickly, processes break down, tasks stop complete, and everyone is exhausted.
The excitement, excitement, trust of a team is replaced with a focus on stealing the chaos that took the life of the team. Many managers who live with Workplace Drama are easily confused and lose faith in their passion. Their vision becomes blurry and they begin to let go of the cause.
Dealing with a Dramatic Workplace is one of the least rewarding parts of being a Leader. It has the potential to suck up your life, and to wipe out your motivation. Often it leaves managers wondering: “Why did I choose this career?” “I just don’t get it. What’s everyone’s problem? Why don’t they just do their job? It’s like dealing with kids.”
Sometimes people need to expend effort. They crowd around the water cooler talking about a certain boss or coworker. For the most part it was a momentary harmless banter. The water cooling speaker provides an outlet or outlet that can be healthy ventilation in metered doses. But when that line is crossed and your team becomes chaotic, immobile, annoyed, unhappy, and dysfunctional, you have doom on your hands.
The culprit will start withholding information, manipulating situations, stealing ideas, or acting so helpless that someone else will come to their aid and give them extra help. Individuals are portrayed as idiots or criminals and suddenly, everything becomes a big problem to the point of exhaustion. Everything was raised to crisis proportions. And your boss looks at you and wonders why you can’t keep your team “under control”.
Drama in the workplace must be eradicated before the violence spreads. Without a hitch, Workplace Drama will undermine productivity and have a negative impact on accuracy and quality. This will dissect the unity of the Team and become the focus of their activities and work priorities. Those who are directly involved in the drama will “lose the ball” and cause harmful mistakes.
This time waster, based on bad behavior, prevents everyone from being great. It reduces everything you are trying to build. Unless you are prepared and equipped to compete with Workplace Drama, it will draw you into it too and undermine your position as a Leader. As usual everyone knew the score, and they waited. Waiting to see what you will do about it.
Let’s start by getting a basic understanding of Workplace Drama. Believe it or not Drama is a predictable plot with predetermined roles. The “Game” movement is always the same. In 1968 Stephen Karpman developed the Drama Triangle as a psychological and social model of human interaction in transactional analysis. The Karpman Triangle surmises three habitual role-plays adopted by drama seekers:
– Victim – People who are treated or accept the role of a vulnerable person
Victim’s Motto – “I’m Perfect” Victim’s Needs – Love
– Persecutor – The person who pressures, coerces, or persecutes the Victim
Persecutor Motto – “I Am Right” Persecutor Needs – Strength
– Rescuer – One who intervenes; as if to help the situation or the underdog
Rescuer’s Motto – “I’m Good” Rescuer Needs – Acceptance
The victim appears depressed, afraid, needy, has low self-esteem and seeks help or answers from others. Enemy Victim, Persecutor, pointing fingers, finding fault, venting anger, lack of compassion, perfection of shells and judging others. And the Savior showed controlling tendencies, giving unwanted advice, overdoing it, taking other people’s problems into account when trying to be a hero.
Karpman describes a “con” and “hook” game that triggers a “switch” and finally a “payoff”. Movement continues as the drama progresses. In this Drama Triangle players play an emotionally unstable and competitive “mind game” that results in each other’s misery and discomfort. The hidden goal of each ‘player’ is to fulfill their unspoken (and often unconscious) psychological wants and needs in a way they feel justified, without having to acknowledge the dysfunction or wider harm that occurs in the situation as a whole.
Important in Karpman’s observation is the occurrence of players who often change roles during the game. The play is played with the protagonist starting out in one of three main roles: Savior, Persecutor, or Victim, with the other main player (antagonist) in one of the other roles.
As the play progresses, the two players move around the triangle switching roles, so that for example the victim turns on the rescue, or the rescuer switches to molesting. Perhaps the victim continues to attack and begins to persecute the persecutor who later becomes the victim. And it goes round and round. That is, until you step up and do something about it.
So now that you realize this is a game with predetermined roles and routines, you can stop the madness before it destroys your team. Your first step is a preemptive strike. You must firmly set an expectation in the minds of each team member that you will not tolerate “Drama”. This should be one of your mandatory attributes to be in the A-Team.
This should be discussed in Company Meetings, Team Meetings and Individual Counseling Sessions. Make it clear that you have a “No Tolerance” policy on Workplace Drama. Openly denounce gossip and betrayal as unforgivable. And it is known that the perpetrators, regardless of the drama roles they choose, will be dealt with firmly.
Next identify your Drama Queen (or King). These are the people in your organization who reveal the charm of adopting one of the three drama roles. In fact, they may even go further and want or need to play the role. The drama queen may be a neurotic and selfish perfectionist. Often they are considered very talented, but this is not always the case.
A drama queen may be jealous or envious of others, which can make personal failures more painful and trigger irrational thoughts of revenge. In the world of drama queens, people can either support her or oppose her; there are no steps in between. The Drama Queen or King gathers followers with similar tendencies and initially holds the court to entertain while trying to draw them into the game.
While a drama queen may find her strong personality and manipulation skills useful in some situations, her inability to control her emotions and to form meaningful relationships creates an obligation on you if left unchecked. Watch your drama queens and kings for signs of sedition. Understand the situations that will push them into action and anticipate their play. By thinking ahead of these divas, you will be able to control the outbreak when it occurs.
In managing a drama situation, start by making sure that you are not a participant in the drama. Examine yourself against the role and take your emotions objectively out of the game. Karpman’s theory states that if you play one role, you end up playing all of them. But here is the biggest eye opener of all.
If you’re in the middle of an interpersonal challenge and you still can’t identify your part, then you’re in the middle of a triangle, and that’s called denial. Know that you stand on solid foundations as a Resilient Leader, and that you can act with integrity and authority.
Once the game is active, start your counterattack by uniting the entire Team. They have also been witnesses to what is going on and know far more than you about the situation. In your meeting, treat the group as a whole. Don’t deal with playwrights in particular.
Redefine your “No Drama” expectations and restate your zero-tolerance policy. Express your dissatisfaction with the lack of teamwork in resolving the current situation (without going into details). Make it clear to everyone that time and money are spent on a destructive personal agenda.
Now pay attention. One of your playwrights will try and put their problems on the table to justify them. Your Victim will start with, “Well, I don’t think it’s fair if…” or your Persecutor will start with a direct attack or your Savior will try to make peace. You know the game and you are ready for it. They try to drag you into it. Now close them hard! Make it clear that you will not go into the details of the situation.
Instead, the Team will reaffirm the rules of conduct going forward. Explain that the team’s need for functionality is your priority and not an individual claim to truth. Then lead the Team in developing “Rules of Engagement” for the Team. Write it on the board for all to see. Facilitates healthy outcomes by focusing on the principles of respect and honesty. Specifically discuss and agree on how conflict situations will be handled going forward.
From now on! Usually they decide to first try and resolve the issue directly amongst themselves and then go up to management if this doesn’t work. You need to make sure the result is that they talk to the person they have a problem with or they talk to you. They are not allowed to talk to others about their complaints. Emphasize this rule!
You’d think in our current world of tolerance, collaboration, and the “can’t we all just get along” philosophy that this would be the end of it all and everyone would get back to work and move forward. Not even close. In fact, I never remember any of these encounters being successful. So why did you go through all that? Because, remember, this is a game and you are playing. That meeting you move to set the final game. Your winning game! You are impartial, non-mediating, unemotional, and most importantly don’t get into the drama game. All you do is set the right standard of behavior. However, the problem at hand is different from workplace drama misbehavior. Now sit back and watch for a few weeks. One of your playwrights will reply.
It’s time for you to rise into action. Now you set up a meeting with the principal. Get ready. They will come armed to defend their case on merit. As they begin their reasoning, let them know that you are aware of the situation and that you are working on it. But this is not the purpose of the meeting. You want to talk to them about their unacceptable behavior. They ignore the company’s “No Drama” policy, they violate the Teams “Engagement Rules,” and they are a problem for you. Acknowledge the difficulty they are having with the situation or person, but reiterate the proper way to deal with the problem is not through divisive backroom play.
Look them straight in the eye. Are you ready to win the game they want to play? Tell them directly and honestly that they will lose their job if they don’t end the drama. Tell them that if they continue to threaten your Team’s culture, productivity and teamwork, you will fire them. Explain that this is not a time sensitive issue and you expect their attitudes and behavior to change starting tomorrow. Conclude your session by reinforcing their value to the organization and your expectation that they will take your honest warning seriously. Check Mate! Whichever path they choose, you have eliminated them as playwrights. And everyone sees you reinforcing the company’s key values.
Workplace drama can steal the soul of your company and undermine your personal morale. This breaks everyone associated with it and gives poor performance results. Ultimately it pushes stock through any culture and ability to have fun. A Street Smart Leader closes the play for drama, setting the tone for personal accountability, respect, choice, and principled behavior in organizations and work cultures. He protects the values of trust that enable people to grow and excel.