How to Stop Work Drama to Get More Done

Workers face enough pressure right now what with worries of being laid off and the demand for increased productivity with fewer resources, so there’s no time for office drama.

Every workplace has them—employees who whine, complicate and control; coworkers who are toxic or don’t pull their weight. And they all can be detrimental to office morale and efficiency.

Recent surveys from Journey On and VitalSmarts show that that across industries, valuable employees either waste as much as or work up to an additional six hours per week because of colleagues or work situations that steal time and drain energy.

That equates to 40% less productivity, diminished innovation and a price tag of approximately $4,000 to $12,000 per year per employee for a whopping total of $10.1 billion on wasted time per week and more than $505 billion a year, according to Linda Byars Swindling, Journey On president and author of Stop Complainers and Energy Drainers: How to Negotiate Work Drama to Get More Done.

Cash-strapped companies can’t afford this loss, and, what’s more, Swindling says office drama pushes 11% of productive workers out the door.

Often workplace drama starts out small, sometimes between two co-workers. But when one employee consistently feels imposed upon or taken advantage of by another and doesn’t know how to deal with the situation, things escalate and spread throughout a team or the company, sapping morale and diminishing productivity.

While small misunderstandings are always going to be present, employers can reduce office drama by taking the lead and establishing a culture of accountability. They must hold workers responsible for their performance, keep them on task and focused and reward productive behavior.

Joseph Grenny, cochairman of corporate training and organizational performance firm VitalSmarts, says a leader needs to focus on providing employees the skills that build confidence and bolster the courage to confront a difficult situation in the office so it doesn’t intensify and mushroom out of control.

When a leader creates a solution-based culture, he or she is establishing a culture of learning and makes possible constructive input and innovation, adds Ana Dutra, CEO of leadership and talent consulting at Korn Ferry International.

“If you’re going to raise a complaint you must also either raise a solution, or volunteer to find one,” says Dutra.

Here are expert tips on how to negotiate work-place drama:

Establish your strategy. Understand the personality of the energy drainer you’re facing to develop a communication strategy that will resonate with the colleague. Above all, look for the person’s gift and talent and express a genuine desire that he or she succeed.

Slow down to wring out your emotion. Don’t approach someone if your emotions are running high, you may either resort to personal attacks or allow harsh undertones to creep into your narrative. Take a minute to gather yourself, as an emotional attack typically elicits a defensive reaction and will undermine your ability to influence, says Grenny.

Share facts only. When sorting out a problem, separate facts from opinions. Relay exactly what happened and strip out the judgment, says Grenny. You’ll keep the negotiation safe and avoid a destructive conversation, adds Dutra.

Be open to competing information. Say words like: My understanding was…so you are not setting up your words as truth, says Grenny. Your tentative language sets up a framework for a dialogue and your attentiveness to your coworker’s responses shows you are receptive to new information. This gets you started on problem solving as well as showing your willingness to modify a situation.

Anticipate objections. Consider roadblocks and your worst-case scenario. Have you left yourself an out, says Swindling, like asking for a break or adjusting your course by moving to Plan B or C?

Establish actionable next steps. Agree on procedures and responsibilities going forward to combat drama and be prepared to agree on how to document the outcome of your negotiation.

Take a self-assessment. Periodically do a self-check up and be prepared to tune up if you find you may be contributing to workplace drama, cautions Swindling.

Set realistic goals. Use a small-steps, contracted timeframe approach to behavior change milestones, says Swindling. “Don’t expect the impossible. People cannot change overnight.”