Drama in the Workplace

We love drama. It makes for great TV, great theater, and great stories. But when it happens at work, it’s not so great.


The bottom line is, the more drama you have, less gets done. Think about the last time you where involved in some theatrics at work. How much time did it take out of your day? How demotivating was it? Drama in media can be exciting, but in work, it can hurt your financial bottom line.

What do we mean when we say “drama?” It used to be a term used just for the overly emotional, but now we use it for any overly negative or inappropriate emotional response. For example:

  • Yelling or being nasty to subordinates or coworkers
  • Over-reacting and/or blowing things out of proportion
  • Attention-getting behavior
  • Pouting
  • Being passive-aggressive (like not finishing a project on purpose)
  • Ganging up on someone
  • Playing the victim
  • Holding grudges

We all have our bad days when we stir up some drama. But something is wrong with the health of the department or entire organization when you seem to be constantly surrounded by it. If you see excessive drama at work, more than likely you have a few of the following:

  • Bad leadership
  • Lack of clarity about the organizations vision
  • Poor communication from management
  • Low trust levels
  • Hidden agendas
  • Inefficient resources
  • Employees don’t have clear performance indicators or they have role confusion
  • Lack of clear polices and/or codes of conduct
  • Low employee emotional intelligence
  • Acceptance of bad behavior

If you are finding that your organization is more like a reality TV show than a business, then you need to address the root causes of the drama and make a plan. You can, however, start right away by confronting the behaviors as soon as they happen. Whether you are the boss or the person answering the phones, all you have to do is to let people know that their behavior is not OK and you are not going to put up with it. That’s it; don’t make it any more complicated than that. Don’t be sucked into the explanation of why they are acting the way they are, just focus on the behavior at the moment.


You: Tom could I talk to you for a second?
Tom: What’s up?
You: Ever since I took over the redesign of build-out I’ve heard that you have been bad mouthing me to your staff.
Tom: Huh? Whahhh?
You: I heard that you said that I was poor choice and you didn’t want to work under me.
Tom: It’s not that, it’s just I’m frustrated with how decisions are made in this place.
You: Listen, stop bad mouthing me to your staff and play nice.
Tom: It’s just that…you seem to get all the decent projects…
You: Stop bad mouthing me to your staff and play nice or I will have to go to Denise.
Tom: But, I’m frustrated and sick and tired of the way I’m treated here.
You: Sorry, that’s another issue for another time. I’m focusing on stopping you from bad mouthing me to your staff. That’s it. Are you going to cooperate?
Tom: OK

If your conversation has lasted more than 5 minutes it went too long. If there are other issues to resolve do it another time, or you run the risk of having watering down your message.

Your goal is to learn to stay calm in the midst of all the drama. Recently, I heard Eckhart Tolle say that “You have truly awakened if you are surrounded by drama and remain peaceful.”

How do you deal with drama?

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