Hate Office Drama? Stop Reacting to It

UPDATED: October 4, 2015
PUBLISHED: March 18, 2015

Office conflict causes stress, cuts productivity and sabotages the teamwork companies need to succeed. In fact, American workers spend more than two and a half hours each week resolving it—or at least trying to. That’s costing U.S. companies $359 billion every year, according to AtTask, a task management software firm.

But before you chalk up workplace conflict to the overdramatic one, the gossipy one, or the one who never pulls his weight, consider someone else first—you. You can help conquer office drama by becoming acutely aware of your own reactions in potentially stressful situations.

As a corporate leadership consultant, I lead workshops on professional development, covering topics like communication, conflict resolution and team building. One of my recent participants complained to me that every time she had a one-on-one with her supervisor, it was only a matter of time before emotions ran high and the conversation went downhill. She felt it was his responsibility to keep the conversation productive and resented having to walk on eggshells.

I suggested she step back and think about her own triggers, reactions and emotions. Just as she felt her boss could turn their conversation sour with one wayward comment, she could keep interactions with her boss positive and professional. But she had to be willing to own the communication and be deliberate about the way she approached her boss.

The truth is we’re emotional human beings who react to certain triggers. It’s in our human nature, but there are ways to get out of that reaction mode. Here’s how:

1. Stop reacting.

Realize that when we react, we relinquish control. We let our emotions override our intentions, and we become emotionally hijacked. You know your cranky boss is a source of drama, so don’t let him or her have that control over your actions and your emotions. Learn to stop yourself from reacting.

2. Identify your triggers.

Triggers are those things that provoke you to have knee-jerk reactions. If you know you are going into a meeting with a difficult co-worker, take time beforehand to think about your likely triggers. If you expect them, you can plan the best way to approach the situation. Once you know what tends to set you off—certain people, topics—you can figure out how to best manage your emotions.

3. Understand your EQ.

Your emotional intelligence quotient determines the way you manage conflict, build relationships and how you are perceived. Here’s the good news. While your IQ, or intelligent quotient is more static, EQ may be developed and strengthened over time as a powerful source to draw from. Carve out some time to assess your EQ; it’s as easy as searching the term “emotional intelligence test” to find one.

4. Discover your blind spots.

Your blind spots are the areas of your personality and behavior that you’re unaware of. For example, you might think you are perceived as professional, but your co-workers might perceive you as standoffish. Ask for feedback from trusted friends, family and colleagues about your strengths and areas in which you can improve.

5. Pay attention to your emotions.

Think about emotions that detract from your effectiveness (annoyed, angry, gloomy, anxious, fearful, nervous) versus ones that enhance it (joyful, playful, inspired, adventurous, grateful, amazed, imaginative, cheerful). What percentage of the day are you in a “good mood” versus a “bad mood”? What percentage of your day are you happy or down? Make conscious decisions about how you’re going to show up—because it matters. You get to decide the kind of mood you are in, and that will translate to the people you work with.

As you become more self-aware and learn to master your emotions in the moment, your professional relationships will flourish and you’ll become more effective and productive at your job.

Good leaders love office conflict. Wait, what? Find out why, plus how to channel disagreement—tactics to encourage and harness healthy conflict—so it fuels innovation, growth and problem-solving.

Anne Grady is an internationally recognized speaker and author. She shares humor, humility, refreshing honesty and practical strategies anyone can use to triumph over adversity and master change. With a master’s degree in organizational communication, Anne started her own company as speaker and consultant to top organizations despite challenges she outlines in her new TEDx talk. Her new book is Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience, and Triumph. She is also the author of 52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work. For more information, visit GetStrongEnough.com