Workplace Culture

How to Reduce Workplace Drama

Do you ever get tired of relational drama at work?  I’m thinking of the kind where someone comes to talk to you about someone else: “You wouldn’t believe what Chris did today…”  It’s easy to become caught up in the stories our colleagues tell us about other people.  But getting caught up in the drama usually weakens our relationships and distracts us from our work.

The Age-Old Story

When people tell us a story about their unhappiness with another person, they tend to tell a story that fits a very familiar story line that I call The Age-Old Story. This story has 3 main actors.  It goes something like this:

  • Role #1: The Innocent Victim – “I was just walking along minding my own business, when…”
  • Role #2: The Guilty Villain – “BAM, out of nowhere, the other person does a bad thing to me. It’s not fair, and…”
  • Role #3: The AllyHero – “I want you to side with me or help me.”

You will find this storyline in many, many places; think fairy tales, action movies, Disney movies and sacred stories.  In fact, The Age-Old Story is so pervasive, we easily slip into these roles in our own lives without questioning whether they are true in our particular situation.  And therein lies the problem, because as we all know, relationships are more complex than this simple tale would have us believe.

How to Stop the Drama

So what can you do to reduce the drama when someone tells you The Age Old Story?

1. Commit to Moving Beyond Silence or Inaction

We need to realize that doing nothing is a type of action.  Our silence or inaction will be interpreted by the storyteller to mean something like, “They agree with me,” or “They don’t care.”

2. Listen and Show Care

You can do this with a simple responses such as, “Thanks for talking about this with me. I can see this matters to you.”

3. Don’t Buy Into the Roles of The Age-Old Story

Remember two things:

  • We all tend to focus on our own good intentions, and we minimize our negative impact on others. The teller of the story is probably doing this – and that is entirely normal. However, we need to realize that the stark contrast between their Innocent Victim role and the Guilty Villain role of the other is probably exaggerated.
  • You don’t have to be the Ally-Hero. You can reduce the drama by helping your colleague consider a different story.
4. Create a New Story

Use these simple questions with the storyteller in order to change The Age-Old Story into a New Story that is more empowering and ultimately reduces the drama:

  • What if the other person’s intention wasn’t to be hurtful?
    • What if they are feeling as though they have been hurt?
    • How could you ask them about their thoughts?
  • What power do you have to change what is happening?
    • What might you be able to do to make things come out more positively?
  • What do you want to do next?

To Summarize

In most cases, The Age-Old Story is untrue, or disempowering.  The one who tells the story is rarely an innocent victim who is powerless to act, the one who has been cast as the guilty villain is rarely purely evil, and you don’t have to be an allyhero, but rather someone who can help your colleague tell a new more empowering story.

This blog is a sample from an upcoming book ACHIEVE is publishing. The book will be released January 2019. 

This book will draw heavily on “A Great Place to Work” Survey.  We would love to hear your input.


Eric Stutzman

Chief Executive Officer

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