Ranting, whining, gossiping, nitpicking, brown-nosing, backstabbing and crocodile tears - badly behaved colleagues can transform an otherwise productive work environment into a shameless scene from The Office. Only it isn't funny when you're caught up in the middle of it. It's exhausting.
If your office feels more like the set of Mean Girls than a professional work environment, it's time to take action. Here are four easy ways to stop the drama and promote peace within your team.
1. LEARN HOW TO HANDLE THE CAST OF CHARACTERS
Some of your co-workers are more likely to cause drama than others. These guys are the leading actors on your stage. You'll recognize them as:
- The loose cannon who goes postal every time something goes wrong. Under pressure, this antagonistic character will rant, rave and throw out verbal abuse and intimidation.
- The complainer who is full of excuses. They didn't have enough time to complete the task. They didn't receive the email. Their dog is in the middle of a health scare. Like dementors, chronic complainers can sap the life-force from an organization.
- The interfering busybody who makes everything their business. They aren't necessarily malicious, but the office gossip can create conflict if their chit-chat is perceived as interfering, backstabbing or slanderous.
- The prima donna with the iron-clad 9-to-5 hours. Workers who rigidly stick to the letter of their job description create resentment among workers who go the extra mile.
- The kiss-up who has literally lost their spine. Everyone likes to receive a compliment but when the goodwill is solely directed at higher-ups, co-workers will begin to resent the enthusiasm.
They may be few in number but these "star" performers can have a terrible effect on their co-workers - diverting energy from projects, reducing productivity and breeding resentment. It's like the 80/20 rule but in reverse; the worst behaved 20% of employees have 80% of the impact and often take up 80% of your time. As a manager, the first step is to identify these characters and make choices about how to reduce the negative impact they have on your team.
2. STAY COOL, STAY POSITIVE
A lot of the time, dramatic behavior is driven by fear and insecurity. People vent because they want to be heard and they want to feel important. If you greet this behavior with eye-rolling, dismissal or disdain, you only reinforce that underlying insecurity. This tends to escalate the drama you're trying to avoid.
A better solution is to stay positive. It's pretty straightforward - you assume that the other person's intentions are good and you hear them out. Validating the other person's issues generally will set up a forum where it easy to share feedback and get back on track. It makes the other person more open to identifying the actionable facts and working together to find a solution.
3. MAKE DECISIONS TRANSPARENTLY AND CONSISTENTLY
As a manager, it is your job to make decisions with a clear and consistent methodology. If everyone in the team knows how you go about making decisions, and that you follow that methodology each and every time with total transparency, it is much harder for co-workers to moan, backstab and say that your decisions were biased.
The same thing goes for accountability. When everyone knows what is expected of them, and can see that each team member is subject to the same scrutiny, there is far less scope for scapegoating or turning a stressful work situation into a personal vendetta. If drama does arise, simply point the relevant team member to the facts and action plan.
Drama thrives in secrecy. By making decisions consistently, transparently and candidly, you show that causing a ruckus does not improve a person's chances of getting what they want.
4. PROMOTE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Many managers are rightly proud of their open door policy. For the most part, having open lines of communication is a sign of good management. However, if employees are continually complaining, tattle-telling or making excuses then running to you to sort the problem out, you've got a problem. You'll waste all of your time and energy putting out the fireworks instead of increasing the productivity of your team.
The simple solution is to show team members that you are serious about hearing their complaints, but that you also expected them to solve the problem. Ask them to come up with clear-cut examples about the behavior that is causing offense - and demonstrate how that behavior deviates from company policy. Ask them to propose appropriate standards if they feel that corporate guidance is lacking. Train them in conflict resolution. Above all, tell employees to resolve their own interpersonal differences and warn them of the disciplinary consequences if their behavior does not change.
Bottom line? Don't put your head in the sand. Drama rarely resolves itself - in fact, it usually escalates if not dealt with swiftly and proactively. While you can't always prevent drama, you can find ways to intervene in a fair and empathetic fashion. Active listening, transparent goal setting and conflict resolution techniques can take the edge off a potentially fiery situation and help your team get along in a professional and respectful manner.