Dissecting workplace drama

Nora Akins

Drama in the workplace costs $350 billion per year in the U.S. according to Gallup research. Add it up: Blaming, backstabbing, bullying and sabotage leading to absenteeism, turnover and negative company reputation. It is all non-productive work time!

Workplace drama is not simply a diminishing force on productivity. It’s a lost opportunity to harness inevitable workplace conflict. Well-managed conflict at work results in improved solutions, innovation and enriched co-worker relationships. Managing conflict is a key leadership skill. Understanding the elements of workplace drama is critical to turning a potential drain on productivity into a positive outcome.

Charlie Sheppard, author of Save Your Drama for Your Mama dissects drama and contrasts it with leadership. Three roles in his drama triangle are adversary, victim and rescuer which he compares to catalyst, visionary and coach in the leadership triangle. Adversaries threaten and catalysts inspire. Victims react and visionaries seek opportunities. Rescuers protect others and coaches believe in others.

The core difference between each role is personal responsibility which is grounded in an internal locus of control. Those with an external locus of control see events happening to them from outside of their control which can shield them from personal responsibility.

Leadership roles have a positive intention and assume positive intention of others. Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo is one of the most powerful and influential women in the world. She has unusual characteristics to fill the top seat of the second largest food and beverage business in the world. Nooyi credits her father for teaching her to always assume positive intent. In an interview she stated with positive intent your emotional quotient goes up, you don’t get defensive, you are trying to listen and understand and your responses are no longer random.

Assuming positive intention can dissolve drama. Should a coworker remark that the project is a waste of time and bound to fail; be curious, learn why and be appreciative of the warning. Inspire the individual to identify how the obstacles can be overcome. When the adversary is met with a catalyst, the adversary is given a choice.

Rescuers assume others need rescuing and will be indebted after being rescued. For instance a rescuer will jump to redo a coworker’s or a subordinate’s project rather than inform the person of the error. The coach on the other hand will assume the person is capable of correcting the error once it’s identified. Coaches believe in their people and their ability to grow positive intention.

Victims are the epitome of negative intention. Not all victims whine about the world being pitted against them, but the undercurrent is there and used as a defense in the event of an error. Visionaries understand mistakes are part of the journey of reaching their goal. Mistakes provide direction.

Learning how to effectively manage conflict can be taught. Sheppard’s contrasts make subtle conflict easier to identify. Catching conflict early will reduce the amount of time invested and result in a healthy and respectful workplace.

Nora T. Akins, of Strategic Management provides management training and refines human resource systems to help employers build respectful workplaces. Reach Nora at 219 873-1735 or nora@managepeopleright.com

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