By Kaley Warner
Aug. 1, 2011
If you work with other people in an office setting, reflect on the last week and notice how much time you wasted in drama: the energy-draining behaviors or exchanges that keep you from what you really want to be doing.
Think about the infighting, water-cooler talk, meaningless meetings, turf wars, pouting, rants and other behavior that blocked positive, productive interactions in your organization.
Now, think about how many creative projects you could have completed or how much time you could have spent having fun with friends and family if you had that time and energy back.
By following these seven steps, you can shift yourself (and your team) away from drama to more enjoyable—and productive—tasks.
Step 1: Get Out of Your Own Drama
One of the most difficult challenges for aspiring leaders is to “own their stuff”—to acknowledge their own responsibility for relationship shortcomings. Before you can guide others, 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 use self-reflection, ask your colleagues, or take a drama assessment. You can only help others when you are curious yourself. Take a deep breath, get re-centered and get out of your own way.
Step 2: 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. Notice the kind of person you’re dealing with. Will they respond more to direct confrontation and setting boundaries (better for Controllers and Cynics), or to appreciation and encouragement (better for Caretakers and Complainers)? Know who you’re dealing with and tailor your approach to maximize your chance for shifting their behavior.
Step 3: 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 or they abruptly leave) and whether you’re willing to face them.
Step 4: Develop Rapport With the Drama-Prone Person
It’s important to establish rapport with the other person so that worker is best prepared to receive your message. Try opening with a blend of connection, appreciation, ground rules and expectations. Your goal is to get the person’s full attention and to set your colleague up to be receptive to your ideas. People prefer to collaborate with those they know and like, so this step is powerful in setting the tone for the rest of the conversation.
Step 5: 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.
This next part is a little tougher. Share with the person how you contributed to the situation (why it’s your fault, too). Then, end with a specific request. Usually these conversations end with an agreement about what will happen next to make sure the drama ends.
While this may sound simple, each component is worth practicing and mastering so that the entire conversation flows smoothly. For instance, it’s very easy to mix facts and derived meaning. People often say, “The facts are, you are being difficult.” When, in fact, the level of cooperation or difficulty of an individual is derived meaning or perception. One person may consider challenging an idea as difficult behavior and another might appreciate it as a commitment to improvement.
Step 6: Get Their Commitment
The last step of the direct conversation in Step 5 is your specific requests or expectations of the person. A commitment to realize these expectations without excuses, sarcasm, self-pity or martyrdom is often difficult to obtain from drama-prone people. They’ll dance around the expectation or rephrase them in vague terms. The deflection and evasion tactics is a self-protection mechanism that helps the dramatic person avoid change and accountability. Don’t get hooked. 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.
Step 7: Validate and Anchor Their Commitment and New Behavior
Praise the person for his or her positive behaviors during your meeting, and honor the commitments that were made. Follow up with a short note or email confirming and affirming the person’s commitments. Ideally, ask them to create a summary of your meeting that includes their specific agreements. People live up to what they write down.
Once you’ve done these seven steps, you have done the hard work. Now you can redirect your energy toward the collaborative, meaningful projects that you enjoy doing and work in an office with much less drama.
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