You Need To Calm Down: 6 Ways To Stop Workplace Drama
Taylor Swift in her newly released video, “You Need To Calm Down,” sends a catchy message about avoiding naysayers and haters, a message that everyone in the workplace needs to hear and abide.
A senior vice president of a medium-sized company recently told me, “We only hire people who are smart and friendly. There is no drama here.” If only that were the case everywhere.
Work drama can be rudeness in a meeting, interruptions on a conference call, name-calling, spreading misinformation or even deliberately sabotaging projects by withholding data or delaying reports.
A new study shows that 44 percent out of 1,000 people surveyed said they sought workplace revenge, according to USA Today. The study shows, “Of those in senior management positions, 45 percent were very or definitely likely to take revenge on a co-worker.” This compares to only 36 percent of entry level workers.
Experts would agree that a workplace culture that is without sniping, gossip, retaliations and petty, unkind behaviors begins with the hiring process. And it is also prudent to make sure that everyone knows what kind of workplace behavior is acceptable in the culture.
Patti Perez, a former employment litigator and author of The Drama-Free Workplace: How You Can Prevent Unconscious Bias, Sexual Harassment, Ethical Lapses and Inspire a Healthy Culture, tells Fast Company, “Looking at the lessons learned from workplace problems, I can identify root causes and drama-producing events. Instead of letting them go into a full-blown discrimination suit, avoid drama in the first place.”
That means making sure a new hire is a good fit. And while “good fit” can be used detrimentally as a code that discriminates against persons of color or those who do not look and appear like everyone already on the payroll, making sure that unconscious bias is addressed and corrected will help with a calmer culture.
Here are six tips every leader can take under her hat to diminish and hopefully eliminate workplace drama.
1. Make sure everyone on the team knows about expectations for best practices. Employees can become upset if they are surprised by process or demands, so laying that all out explicitly will help, and without bias about a person’s competence or excellence. Post rules of conduct. Reward exemplary behavior, model how to treat each other on the team. According to Fast Company, “Not focusing enough of explaining your company’s culture can cause drama later, if the hire isn’t a good fit. Perez recalls a situation where a startup hired a woman who had worked at a large organization, a defense contractor. She was excited about the opportunity, but assumed the processes and job description would be similar to her previous role.” It didn’t go well.
2. Take action right away. This is not like a family drama at a holiday where you can ignore a comment and hope no one remembers. If someone says something rude or inappropriate, you as a leader have to call it out. Sharon Kuhn writes in Forbes, “You have three options: (1) Terminate dramatizers, (2) shut drama down with cognitive reasoning, which unfocused, underdeveloped people can’t sustain, or (3) model empathy for the employee’s state of mind and rely on the science of empathy to send chemicals to their higher brain. Once their facial expression, body language and eye contact become calmer, you can shift to reasoning about the issues at hand, which will now make a more sustainable impact.”
3. The level of response must equal the offense. You are not likely to fire someone over a dumb remark that was just unintentional and thoughtless. But you may want to consider options for something that is offensive or possibly illegal. Meghan Butler writes in Inc., , “Be direct. Explain to them how what they’re doing is unacceptable and affects the whole team. Coaching is more efficient when you match your tone to the intensity of the moment. If your employee makes passive aggressive wisecracks that dig at another or serve to redirect the heat from themselves, call it out with a crack and move on. Then address it with them privately.”
4. Make sure you know what the problem is. Two coworkers who belittle each other publicly and bring down the entire team may be about more than a personality conflict. There could be misperceptions about favoritism, uneven work assignments, salary inequities or bias on the part of managers. Marlene Chism, author of “Stop Workplace Drama” “No-Drama Leadership” and “7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice,” writes in Smart Brief, “Avoid the tendency to focus on a solution before clearly identifying the problem. Before offering a training program, ask yourself, what is the real problem? Don’t go into a solution. Put your focus on the results. What result do you want versus the results you are getting? If it seems that the problem is behavioral, ask these two questions: What is happening that should not be happening? How does this affect our business? Then go backwards to see what cultural issues affect behavior.”
5. Practice compassion. This can be modeled from the top and put into regular business practice. Recognize birthdays, work anniversaries and major accomplishments. Acknowledge deaths in the families of workers and offer condolences. Regularly call team meetings where people can offer good news or something they want to share. And make sure you listen and take note.
6. Resolve the issue and let it go. People say and do stupid things for a variety of reasons every day. No one is flawless. But if an issue that caused drama has been addressed and has not recurred, let it go. Do not keep bringing it up. Bury the transgression and move forward, lessons learned. After all, even in the Taylor Swift video for “You Need To Calm Down,” she and Katy Perry appear as besties.
Still, do not dismiss drama at work as nothing. The cost of allowing workplace drama to go unchecked is more than just occasional low morale or bad days at work.
Such unchecked drama can escalate to creating a “hostile work environment,” a term of law with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that defines harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”
According to Ladders, “’Everybody has experienced some sort of toxicity in the work environment over the course of their career,’ said Josh Taylor, an attorney and lead content strategist at Smokeball, a legal management software company. Toxicity in the workplace includes unlikable or rude coworkers. While toxic workplaces aren’t ideal, they’re also not illegal. ‘It becomes illegal if you are being targeted for your protected class under the law,’ Taylor said. Annoyances, slights and one-off events are not considered illegal.”
Chism writes, “All leaders have to deal with some type of workplace drama. Whether it’s low morale, negativity, turnover or even a lawsuit, there is an answer. The answer comes by making clarity a priority. Clarity can change any situation.”
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