How to handle crying, temper tantrums and other office antics.
by Kate Pavao, July 2011
With so much volatility in the global economy, anything that disrupts normal business operations is a potential threat. Author and adviser Jim Warner believes that maintaining a healthy business culture is just another way to keep business on track. “You’ve got to be continually focused on growth objectives and profit objectives, so any type of dramatic behavior that sucks energy out of productivity or efficiency has do be dealt with,” says Warner, co-author of The Drama-Free Office. Here he gives Profit readers some coping advice — including what to when your own dramatic behaviors take center stage.
Profit: What is drama?
Warner: Drama is any type of dysfunctional behavior that sucks energy out of relationships in an organization. It can be complaining, whining, cynicism, or controlling behaviors — where one person feels they have to dominate conversations. Another form of drama comes from the caretaker, the person who’s the perpetual pleaser. You’d think you’d like this kind of person in an organization but they over-commit, and in doing so create drama around them. Also, they’re weak managers because they struggle to delegate and empower others.
Drama always exists but the question is, do the managers have the courage to address it head on? A lot of times they let it fester and the longer you let it fester, the worse it gets in terms of draining productivity.
Profit: Why do leaders tolerate drama?
Warner: Much of is they don’t know how to deal with it cleanly with their associates or their bosses. They worry a confrontation will make the behavior worse, or vilify them, or nothing will happen so why bother. And they don’t have the tools for having direct conversations. There’s a lack of training on how to have difficult conversations and how to establish clean agreements, which are big parts of interpersonal dynamics. You don’t learn this in business schools.
Profit: How can you learn to deal with it then?
Warner: Certainly you can learn from a manager who is gifted in interpersonal skills and not afraid to confront issues head on. Or you can learn it from a coach or mentor. It’s the protégées’ responsibility to find the mentor not the other way around: Look for someone with a level of maturity, someone who is unflappable under pressure, and someone who is comfortable with different personality types. Technical people should look for mentors who are different than them and who will help them stretch themselves.
Profit: What should you do when you feel yourself slipping into dramatic behaviors?
Warner First, pause take a deep breath and just observe what’s going on. Get your ego out of the way and ask yourself, “How am I contributing to this dynamic?” Then, forgive yourself for what you’ve done, so you can then show up authentically with others. Think, “How can I shift my own behavior to become more open, creative, curious, and direct?” That is the idea of being present instead of having to be right.
When things get heated in a meeting, a manager needs courage to say, “Let’s take a time out for a second. Take a deep breath. It looks like we’ve gotten off track. Let’s see if we can set aside our personal agendas here, including my own, and focus on what’s best for the team.” If it’s really heated, we encourage managers to actually suspend the meeting. Take some time off and reconvene tomorrow. That’s a gutsy mood for a meeting leader.
Profit: What should you do when emotion appears during a conversation — either tears or signs of anger?
Warner: Emotion is part of life. We always have this current of emotion running through us. The antidote is just to ride it out, to acknowledge that it exists rather than trying to dispel it. Most people feel like they have to fix emotion, which is just the opposite of what’s necessary. All you have to do is acknowledge it. Simply reflect back what you see.
So many managers make this bad mistake where they try to rationalize or collaborate when emotion exists. That’s a total waste of time. Instead, suspend any type of feedback, advice giving, or discussion and deal with the emotion first.
Profit: What are some ways that leaders can create a more positive, drama-free environment?
Warner: The simplest way is to catch people doing something good. Always have an eye out for somebody who generated a report ahead of time, or finished it in a stellar fashion. Explicitly praise that person, ideally in front of others. The key is to be specific. Don’t say, “Hey, you did a great job on that report,” but rather, “I really appreciate the wordsmith-ing you did on the appendix.” Ideally, these compliments are given face to face. Emails are OK but again the human touch is huge.
Visit the website for The Drama-Free Office at http://www.dramafreeoffice.com/ for a free online assessment. The 10-minutes test will gauge your dramatic tendencies across the four different types the book identifies. You can also assess your co-workers so you can learn to collaborate with them more effectively.