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7 Steps to A Drama-Free Office

This past week, I've written about Anne Kreamer's superb book, It's Always Personal, then explored what I thought were unanswered questions in a post about From Values to Action by Harry Kraemer. Later Anne emailed to me, saying I missed a part of her argument.
"Contrary to what you suggest, throughout my book I suggest that the workplace is indeed an appropriate place to express emotions. What I propose throughout is that rather than dampen down our emotions ... it is better to identify them early on and then develop strategies for learning how to express them effectively."
So that brings me to my next question: How can managers create a culture where transparency, mutual respect, and problem-solving are encouraged, as opposed to toxic gossip and hidden agenda?
In The Drama-Free Office, A Guide to Healthy Collaboration with Your Team, Coworkers, and Boss, authors Jim Warner and Kaley Klemp (Greenleaf July 2011) portray the destructive personality traits that emerge at work and lay out a detailed roadmap for "managing difficult people in difficult situations." As with other smart thinkers in the field, Warner (an entrepreneurship coach) and Klemp (an executive coach and facilitator) make clear that the workplace with its rewards and humiliations can become a place where anyone can fall into a destructive role, as you give vent to particular tendencies in your personality.

For these authors, eliminating drama is a way of expressing the challenge of dealing with raw emotions at work. Crippled organizations are "drama-prone", continually losing creativity, energy and productivity to the management of power struggles and wounded egos. The authors' approach begins with recognizing four types of energy-draining personalities. Correctly, the authors point out that people can fall into roles despite the best of intentions. "Each role has its own honorable intent for getting the job done, and its own special way of being right," the authors write.
The four types:

  1. The complainer wants a happy ending to every problem but believes he or she is powerless to alter the situation and finds comfort and psychological relief in portraying obstacles as hopeless to overcome.
  2. The cynic has given up the desire for control and completion, but points out all the ways current ideas fall short. The cynic becomes an expert in the failures of decisions, masking a fear of criticism if he or she plays a constructive or leadership role.
  3. The controller wants work to be done efficiently, and thoroughly. The controller wants power, has the solutions, and is impatient with the solutions or "whining" of others.
  4. The caretaker sincerely wants to reach a positive outcome while protecting and supporting all parties. This can be a productive role for a while, but all too often the caretaker avoids confronting difficult people and problems which re-emerge to wreak havoc on the team.
One of the most helpful sections in the book explains the seven steps managers should take to deal with and dispose of the drama.
  1. Get out of your own drama. This reminds us of Harry Kraemer's rule of self-reflection. Before initiating an encounter with a direct report or team member, you need to self-assess your own dramatic behaviors.
  2. Diagnose the type of drama in the other person. Identify personality type you're confronting--some people are a hybrid of the four tendencies and require a more indepth analysis.
  3. Assess the risk of confronting the other person. Before you have a "crucial conversation", you need to know whether you can afford losing a relationship, making an enemy, or triggering an outburst if you push the person too far. If the risks are high, moderate your approach.
  4. Develop rapport with the other person. Now you're ready for the crucial conversation--be sure you can connect to and appreciate your counterpart. For your meeting, set ground rules and expectations.
  5. Use the "crucial conversation" tools to guide the encounter. Define your intention, provide facts, state beliefs, share your own feelings, and describe your role in drama. Carefully reflect back and mirror your counterpart's point of view.
  6. Get the drama queen (or king's) commitment. If you run into denial, sarcasm, or self-pity, continue to state your specific expectations and your need to for a mutual commitment to meeting those expectations. If your counterpart continues to resist or deflect be prepared with an ultimatum, rewards, and consequences.
  7. "Validate and anchor" their commitment and new behavior.
Commenters, what approaches have you taken with the drama queens--and kings--in your office?

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Herb Schaffner is president of Schaffner Media Partners, a consultancy specializing in business, finance, and public affairs publishing expertise, and is found on Facebook. He has been a publisher and editor-in-chief at McGraw-Hill, and a senior editor at HarperCollins. Follow him on Twitter.