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We’ve all experienced the meeting that turns into a complaint session, the coworker who turns everything in late or that nagging feeling that a team member doesn’t have your back. These workplace scenarios can disrupt your day, sap creative juices and generate growing tensions. But why are they so common?
Wakeman is a researcher, author and leadership consultant who literally wrote the book on drama in the workplace. Now she’s on a mission to help people become happier, more creative and more productive in all facets of their lives. We spoke with Wakeman to learn how to ditch the office drama to build more creative and collaborative teams.
More accountability, less drama
According to Wakeman, drama is like “emotional waste”: energy that’s diverted toward negativity and away from positive working environments and results.
We can, and should, learn to control this energy, she says — but its sources aren’t always obvious. In fact, drama is often quiet and hard to spot.
“[Drama includes] mental processes that are unproductive, disruptive behavior — anything that takes energy away from what we’re trying to create,” Wakeman explains. “It’s about whether you help or hinder the team [and] … whether you add clarity or chaos.”
Wakeman’s best advice for ditching the office drama: “Stop believing everything you think.” Drama originates from the stories we tell ourselves about the world around us — stories that aren’t fully accurate. To combat it, we must question what we perceive is happening and look closer at the facts.
Here’s an example of what Wakeman calls “quiet” drama: An employee goes to a meeting and doesn’t speak up but then feels slighted because their idea was not included. This person feels left out, so that becomes their narrative. The drama lies in the disconnect between what they think happened versus what actually did: They didn’t share, so nobody knew.
Wakeman believes most workplace drama comes from either too much ego or too little accountability. Taking things personally without asking questions, in our example above, is a sign of ego. An example of poor accountability might be when a worker claims they’re willing to do their job but then only does so under certain conditions or for certain people. In both cases, the person’s failure to reflect on their own role in the drama helps perpetuate it.
In Wakeman’s framework, “To come fit for work, you have to be managing your own drama.”
But what if you’re part of the drama and you don’t even realize it? Not only is this likely, it’s virtually guaranteed: Wakeman says that the average worker wastes 2.5 hours each day on office drama. While it often gets normalized as “office politics” or attributed to one or two repeat offenders, this isn’t the whole story.
“I think people are aware of other people’s drama, but not self-aware,” Wakeman says.
Luckily, there are steps managers can take to help workers…