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Act decisively to curb drama in the workplace

Workplace drama is not new, but it is a problem business leaders ignore or minimize without realizing the long-term damaging effects the behavior can have on a company. To fix the problem, however, we must first understand why it exists.

It’s easy to blame someone’s background or upbringing for his or her poor behavior, but there may be other contributing factors. Many people sustain life-changing “shocks” that can influence their personality and significantly alter their behaviors and performance.

If you watch the TV show “Hoarders,” you’re familiar with how the dynamic can unfold. What starts one person down a path to become a drama king or queen is different than the path or experience of the next person.

Workplace drama is usually a more complex issue than what appears on the surface, making the challenge quite arduous. This is especially true when the person’s professional and technical skills are valued by the company and their customers.

But, do be careful not to let the poor behavior go on too long. When poor behavior is viewed as acceptable behavior, it can most likely derail your organization’s culture and erode bottom-line performance.

Here are some things to consider before taking steps to defuse workplace drama.

Think about your organization’s culture. What does it look like?

Is there a structure in place that engages and encourages everyone to work together toward a common goal, leaving little-to-no room for drama? Or, is it a loose environment where the boundaries of behavior are left open to everyone’s own interpretation?

Be careful not to confuse “passion” for one’s work with “drama.” When people are passionate about their work, they can be very animated or dramatic, but their actions are directed at positive outcomes.

Working with a drama king or queen can be confusing even to the most astute business person because the kings and queens usually “love” the work they do and may demonstrate significant talent for their work.

When someone is being dramatic, they are usually looking for attention, have a tendency to overstate or overemphasize a situation, enjoy “stirring the pot” and can sap the positive energy or life out of an organization when they act out.

If you value all other aspects of the person’s contribution to your company, learn more about what triggers the dramatic behavior. Did the person always display some level of drama, is it a new behavior for him or her or is it a behavior that is being mimicked by what he or she sees elsewhere in the company?

If the person has always been a drama king or queen, or if they’ve had a traumatic “shock” in their lives, it may be unreasonable to think the situation will improve if the person does not seek guidance from a professional.

If the drama is being mimicked by what is being seen elsewhere in the organization, you may need to reacquaint your employees with your company’s values. You may also want to make sure your employees’ values are aligned with the organizational values. Performance reviews can be a perfect time to discuss value alignment with your employees.

Can the cause of the behavior be easily corrected in the workplace? If not, you will need to make a decision regarding the employment status of the individual and take action.

If the cause can be corrected, who else do you need to involve in the process? What is the cost? How much time will it take? What are the boundaries and expectations that will need to be implemented?

Regardless of why workplace drama is occurring within your company, you need to ask yourself what is the cost of doing nothing, who will be affected and how much lost time and energy will be incurred by the organization?

There is no easy fix for most workplace drama situations because of the dynamics associated with them.

But, be careful not to let the drama king or queen take control of the environment. When a situation arises, act quickly. Time is of the essence.

A business leader and entrepreneur with more than 35 years of experience, Bonnie Sussman-Versace is co-founder and principal of FOCUSED LLC in Wyomissing, which helps business leaders achieve cultural environments that foster improved quality of life and bottom-line performance. She can be reached at bversace@focusedllc.net.

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