Drama Belongs in TV Shows, Not Organizations

drama in organizations
by , in Culture

The popularity of TV shows that have lots of drama is ever present. People get hooked on the characters and their overly dramatic behavior. The drama is woven into story lines adding many surprises and cliff hangers to the plot of the show, bringing people back week after week.

While drama is good for TV shows it’s not so good for organizations. It tends to waste people’s time, weaken relationships, and diminish overall employee morale. Getting work done and completing projects on time is hard enough when individuals are focused; but, it becomes downright impossible when drama steals people’s attention and time.

We all know drama is basically taking something small or unimportant and making it bigger than it is. This behavior tends to play out through people in organizations in three different ways: overly sensationalizing problems, habitual opposition to ideas, and sharing of secrets. Let’s look at these in detail.

Problems get overly sensationalized when people first intensify the shock of encountering a problem. Phrases like “Did you hear what happened?” and “Can you believe it?” often accompany this phase of the drama. Then they move on to finding the persons who were at fault. This is where good detective work comes into play. Lots of people have to be talked to and multiple perspectives have to be considered. Then in the final phase the character of the individuals at fault is attacked. It is not hard to see how detrimental this is to organizations. Lots of energy is wasted, individuals get beat up and reputations are destroyed.

Habitual opposition is much harder to identify. A major symptom of this type of drama is when people leave meetings worn out as though they just went through three rounds in a boxing ring, but accomplished very little. It takes a long time to see this trend but people who do this are basically playing tug of war with ideas and opinions. If someone presents their idea then this person will take a counter view and question the validity of the other person’s idea. Then they will argue against the idea as long as they can until they feel they have won. While organizations need opposing views to flesh out the best ideas they don’t need to waste time arguing for arguing sake. This only makes being at work a not-so-fun experience.

The last type of dramatic behavior, sharing secrets, does not seem like drama but that is because it is covert in nature. In fact, another name for it is covert gossip. It always starts with the person saying “I’m going to tell you something but you have to promise not to tell anyone.” What follows is some privileged information not about them but about someone else. Plus, it most likely has been shared with multiple other people in the organization. This creates a buzz that everyone is aware of but can’t talk openly about with each other. It undermines trust and relationships.

Drama exists to some degree in all organizations and it can’t be ignored with the hope of it going away on its own. Management has to recognize it, identify a strategy to confront it, and put energy towards reducing it.

Some of the strategies for confronting drama require management action, others require educating employees. Here are some tried and true strategies for dealing with these types of dramatic behavior:

For problems that get overly sensationalized, management needs to focus first on what needs to be done to correct the problem and then take steps to resolve it. They then need to focus not on who was at fault but what caused the problem and how to avoid it in the future. Making statements like “It’s not great that this happened but at least we know we are getting better because we experienced it and now know how to not let it happen in the future” will go a long way to show employees that it is not important to lay blame on anyone.

To combat habitual opposition, learn to stop playing tug of war over ideas or opinions. When you experience this kind of behavior from someone let go of the rope, so to speak, by saying “I disagree” and nothing more. It doesn’t give the other person anything to react to or the ability to continue the argument. Another, statement to try is “I don’t understand what you are saying. Can you say more?” This makes them work much harder to keep the argument going.

Lastly, when someone comes to you and says “I’m going to tell you something but you have to promise not to tell anyone else.” Tell them you will promise to not tell anyone only if what they are about to say involves them and not anyone else. Otherwise you do not want know what they want to tell you.

Once these strategies are in place you will see a significant decrease in the level of drama in your organization and an increase in production too. If people want drama in their lives tell them to watch more TV. Drama’s not fit for organizational life.