From time to time, most of us have experienced or even contributed to workplace drama. It can take many different forms: People gossip, spread rumors, complain, lash out emotionally, rant about a perceived wrong, purposely exclude others, take sides in conflicts, and so forth. No matter how drama manifests, it can be a highly destructive force inside a company, and leaders must take a zero-tolerance stance against drama.
Here are a few tips for shutting down drama in your organization:
Model the behavior you want to see
Don’t participate in drama yourself. Don’t gossip or badmouth anyone. Strive to always be aboveboard, fair, respectful, and positive. Be really careful about even small things: for example, copying someone you don’t need to copy on a sensitive email. Never stop examining your own motives and hold yourself to the highest standard. The leader always sets the tone for workplace behavior. If it’s okay for you to do it, employees assume it’s okay for them. Be aware of the messages you’re sending.
Have a system for managing conflict
Train employees on how situations should be resolved and give them specific steps for getting there. In many cases, they may not realize how harmful their actions are. With just a little training and expectation-setting, you can eliminate many of the problems.
Be as transparent as possible
Drama thrives in secretive environments. This is one of many reasons why it’s a good idea for organizations to be open about everything from financials to performance metrics to changes that might be coming in the future. The less people have to speculate about, the less likely they’ll be to gossip and repeat hearsay. Leaders need to be transparent, too. The less you have to hide, the less you’ll have to worry about who you told and whether they will repeat it.
Stop repeating the story
When something happens that gets people upset, they may feel the need to tell their story over and over, even to people it doesn’t involve. Usually this is because they want support or attention. As leaders we need to be careful not to do this ourselves and we need to let employees know how destructive this can be. When we repeat stories over and over, they become larger than life and perpetuate negativity throughout the organization.
Hold open conversations about real issues
When there is an issue, the goal is to get it fixed, not go behind people’s backs and complain. Far better to approach the person and have an open conversation. Back up your statement with data. For example: “In the past month, you have missed three deadlines. Can we talk about what the problem might be?” Often, addressing the issue openly will help you uncover a root cause. Once you zero-in on the factor keeping the employee from doing their job properly, you can work to find a solution.
Encourage people to carry their own messages
If an employee comes to you complaining about a fellow employee, ask “Have you spoken to this person directly?” A big part of creating an ownership mindset is teaching employees to work out their own conflicts and advocate for themselves rather than “telling on” people. Remember, the goal is always adult relationships. Adults resolve their own issues rather than stirring up drama.
Try to understand people’s motivations
Sometimes an employee may create drama unintentionally. Their motive might be pure but their delivery or process is broken. Maybe they really do need something fixed but don’t know how to go through the proper channels to get it done. Usually by having a probing conversation with the person, you’ll be able to figure out their motivation. You can then use it as a teachable moment, explaining how they might better handle similar situations in the future.
Shut down troublemakers immediately
If you see that someone is intentionally engaging in bad behavior or stirring up trouble, take a two-pronged approach. First, don’t join in the conversation the troublemaker has started. Stay professional and aboveboard. Next, narrate to the troublemaker (and everyone) that drama is unacceptable. Reiterate the kind of environment you are trying to create inside your company. Sometimes we all need a gentle reminder.
Extend grace. Let people back in the fold
If someone has made a mistake, give them another chance. Don’t hold a grudge or, worse, turn the company against them. We’re all human and we all have bad moments and bad days. In general, discourage self-righteous or “I’m done here!” attitudes that assume the worst of people and make it okay to give up on them. Recognize the humanity and fallibility of others. In your words and actions demonstrate that extending a little grace to people when they stumble is a good thing.
Reward and recognize people who get it right
We all learn by example. For instance, when you see someone handling conflict in a positive way, thank them and acknowledge them publicly. Likewise, admit it when you get it wrong. If you do something that creates or perpetuates drama, own it and apologize. People respect leaders who are vulnerable and honest about their flaws.
About the Author:
Quint Studer is the author of Wall Street Journal bestseller The Busy Leader’s Handbook and a lifelong businessman, entrepreneur, and student of leadership. He not only teaches it; he has done it. He has worked with individuals at all levels and across a variety of industries to help them become better leaders and create high-performing organizations. He seeks always to simplify high-impact leader behaviors and tactics for others.