Wright Foundation | August 13, 2015

“It’s Not My Fault!” …Dealing with Office Drama

Many Americans have come to expect drama at the office, whether it’s a clique-like atmosphere among coworkers or colleagues blaming each other for their mistakes.

office drama

Many Americans have come to expect drama at the office, whether it’s a clique-like atmosphere among coworkers or colleagues blaming each other for their mistakes. Oftentimes, personal issues can cloud the judgment of an employee who feels hurt or threatened by a colleague, leading to bigger problems that affect everyone’s ability to do their jobs.

For example, perhaps your officemate Carol is involved with drama with Adam in the estimating department—and now Adam is putting Carol’s work off just to get back at her. So how do we engage with our coworkers like responsible adults and set aside all the office drama once and for all?

Look at the Roles of Each Person in Conflict

We’re always transacting, or interacting, with each other in the same ways we learned growing up. We’re either a responsible adult, a rebellious child facing a controlling parent, or a controlling parent resisting the “child’s” rebellion (this idea is based on the Transactional Analysis theory by Eric Berne). This comes from our learned behaviors when we were kids, as childhood emotions can return in adulthood. In the situation of Carol and Adam, Carol may be acting as a controlling parent by telling Adam how to do his job; therefore, Adam rebels against her in a childlike way by avoiding his work on purpose.

Responsible adults use their critical thinking skills and directly let people know what they want and negotiate for it. If Carol had used positive communication skills to let Adam know precisely what she needed on the estimate, he may have reacted a different way.

When engaging in irresponsible behavior, people are manipulative and feeling sorry for themselves, perhaps blaming others and building unfinished business instead of dealing with each issue as it comes along.

Pay attention to the different roles in your dramatic office scenario, then react responsibly and accordingly.

The Dreaded Drama Triangle

When it comes to office drama, most cases involve someone feeling victimized. Every Victim has a Persecutor and each Victim/Persecutor team has a Rescuer. This is called “the drama triangle,” a model for interaction by Stephen Karpman. The drama triangle is not only inefficient, it can also lead colleagues down a dangerous path. Every office has its Rescuer: the person in charge of explaining the authority figure to the victim. At first it seems nice, but then you realize that this person is inserting themselves between the two people who are really in conflict.

Issues of power differential may lead to problems, so a key element to success is recognizing your place and submitting to authority in the company hierarchy. Deal with issues directly and avoid the drama triangle. Always work to help the company move towards its mission and goals through your own work.

What Does a Drama-Free Office Look Like?

The most successful workplaces contain responsible adults engaging with each other towards the common focus and purpose of the company overall. People own their jobs, take responsibility, and do not blame others for issues. Employees care for each other and want to help them succeed, not put them down for their own gain.

Ask your colleagues what the perfect, drama-free workplace would look like. Maybe they’ve never even considered the possibility! Find out what your ideal office looks like as a team and create a shared vision of prosperity and peace.

Will My Work Life Ever Be Drama-Free?

Even the best, drama-free offices will have a few snags here and there. No one is perfect and we all have those days when we take a criticism personally and allow our minds to travel back to earlier aggressions. People gossip whether they admit it or not, but the chain can be stopped.

Focus on your goals and visions and encourage others to do the same. Even colleagues who appear to adore drama need to step up for the company as a whole. This doesn’t mean they have to go—instead, they need to be heard…and understood.

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Blog post image courtesy: Flickr user trawin.


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