I have often joked that there’s a reason God gave me boys. Perhaps it’s an unfair stereotype, but in my totally unscientific survey of friends with adolescent daughters, it appears they have significantly more drama in their lives. And while overall I consider myself a patient person, my threshold for drama is pretty low.
From an organizational standpoint, I don’t know of anything that sucks the life out of an effort faster than feeding into drama. I understand how it happens . . . you’re trying to be supportive, listen to concerns, and consider all perspectives . . . Unfortunately, like the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors, the more you feed the drama, the more it grows . . . at times to epic proportions. And while drama may fuel the small number of individuals who are the source of the angst, for the vast majority of your staff, allowing drama to flourish is like installing a reverse battery that drains all the energy away from the important tasks of your organization. Let me be clear, when I talk about drama, I don’t mean valid concerns or conflicts. I’m referring to gossip, rumor mills, passive aggressive behavior, power struggles, “joking” put-downs . . . you get the picture.
How do you stop the drama drain? It’s not easy, and I make no claim of being an expert, but there are a few things that I’ve found to be helpful over the years. While it might seem logical to simply ignore the drama, this often backfires. If the individual thinks you haven’t noticed the offending situation, he or she may feel compelled to voice the issue more loudly, and to more people, until you take notice, thus creating a “drama vortex” that can pull in numerous unsuspecting individuals. On occasion, you will find yourself in the middle of such a situation before you even realize what is happening, and only in hindsight do you recognize that you unwittingly fueled the flame. But there are other options.
I have found it to be helpful to acknowledge the issue being raised, but then a) offer a different perspective (that doesn’t sound like Joe, maybe he is trying to address other issues we aren’t aware of); b) if you are able, offer to find a solution to the situation (I’d be glad to check into that, and I will get back to you with what I learn) and then follow-through on your offer; or c) ask them how they’d like to see the situation resolved (and what can they do to make that happen) . . . and then stop the conversation. The person who is fueled by drama will likely want to re-hash, make suppositions, and generally get wound up about the situation all over again. Don’t be drawn in. Listen, offer a new perspective or ask for or offer a possible solution, and then move on. If they try to offer you additional “evidence” after this point, patiently (you don’t get to be snarky just because they are) repeat response a, b, or c, and then change the subject. Usually after a minute or two, they will recognize that you’re finished with the conversation, and they will be too.
Countering emotion with this type of empathic logic is the best “drama antidote” that I have found. Is it fool proof? No . . . but even if it just works 80% of the time, think of all the energy you will have saved for the real work at hand.