Every workplace has some degree of office politics to navigate. Even small, super-cohesive teams have minor drama come up every now and then. And it can have pretty negative effects—letting workplace drama fester creates a toxic environment, raises levels of stress and anxiety, increases burnout and turnover, and lowers productivity.
While it might be impossible to eliminate all sources of interpersonal conflict at work, there are ways to minimize the negative effects of workplace drama and politics.
Here are 4 tips to help you out:
1. Assume the positive. It may seem simple, but giving people the benefit of the doubt can be huge. It can be easy to immediately jump to the negative conclusion when a colleague does something disappointing or irritating (they’re lazy, terrible at their job, selfish, generally incompetent, etc.). But next time a co-worker doesn’t deliver or does something that makes you roll your eyes, try assuming that they wanted to do good—people generally do!
Instead of jumping down their throat, approach the situation with curiosity. Whatever the reason for their actions or words, it doesn’t help to go down a dramatic, accusatory path. It’s amazing how quickly the potential for conflict dissipates when everyone operates from positive assumptions.
2. Avoid gossip. Yup. It’s that simple. You’ve likely heard it before, and you’ll hear it again, because it’s true: Just. Don’t. Engage. The easiest way to avoid getting caught up in office drama is to choose not to take part. We all make choices every day, and making the choice to avoid getting caught up in backstabbing and negativity is as simple as removing yourself from the situation. Not participating doesn’t have to come off as self-righteous or rude, either. If the gossip mill starts churning, you have a choice. Leave the room, put in headphones, pull out a Sudoku puzzle, change the subject, or defuse the situation with some HR-approved humour.
3. Take a breather. Feeling triggered by a co-worker’s actions or words? When confronted, remain respectful, refrain from engaging in heated debate, listen to their concerns, and remain professional. Then take a breather and let yourself cool off. Don’t respond immediately if you’re feeling hot under the collar, you’ll only add to the drama. If you need to, it’s totally okay to excuse yourself temporarily to prevent your reptilian brain from taking over. Cultivate mindfulness: go for a walk, meditate, eat a cookie, call your mom, whatever you need to cool down and prevent the situation from escalating.
This doesn’t mean you should ignore situations that need to be addressed, but planning your response ahead of time and thoughtfully considering the most productive ways to engage will yield far more constructive results.
4. Halt the rumour mill. Inaccurate or hastily shared rumours about upcoming decisions and changes can spell big drama. Minimize speculation and rumour-mongering by cultivating a culture of clarity and open communication and adhering to democratic, transparent, and consistent processes. It’s hard to call decisions into question and create a ruckus when there’s been total transparency about how choices and decisions are made.
Your Engaged HR Assignment: The takeaway? Defaulting to a respectful, polite, empathetic, and genuine approach goes a long way towards breaking cycles of drama and hostility in the workplace.
Next time drama or office politics come up at work, find your zen and nurture your workplace community by reviewing these four secrets and applying them. Be the change—set a positive example for your team by giving people the benefit of the doubt, avoiding gossip, communicating productively, and creating transparency.