Just Say “NO!” to Workplace Drama

Before getting into the problem solution discussion, let’s first take a look at a real world example of the workplace dysfunction I call DRAMA ADDICTION. The following is one example of a troubled worker’s drama addicted behavior.

We got along when she was first hired. But in the course of a few years, she was promoted to oversee two other people in the department. That’s when all the trouble began. She started seeing herself as being in charge of the entire department, including me, not just her staff. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, except that she completely lacks people skills. She’s managed to offend or alienate several people in the company, not just our department, including some of our customers and salespeople. She’s snide, condescending, negative, rude, and caustic to co-workers. Plus she has a very poor work ethic (it’s generally expected that she’ll call in sick after taking a vacation day because she’ll have a hangover). She’s very focused on titles and positions and constantly says and does things to show that she sees herself as being above everyone else in the department. She makes a big deal out of the smallest mistakes anyone makes and is quick to blame other people for her bad choices and decisions.

Whenever there is a conflict, it’s ALWAYS instigated by her with someone she feels threatened by. On many occasions, I’ve had to defend myself to my boss because of lies she’s told about me. I’m guessing it’s in her best interest to make me and everyone else look bad so she can look better to her boss. Everyone else in our department gets along just fine with each other. At one point, there was a near office revolt against her nasty attitude because she commanded people to do things that made no sense, and she didn’t have the authority. Everyone in the department complained about her to our boss. As a result, she was asked to take ‘people skills’ training. But the class she took was ‘dealing with difficult co-workers’ as if we were the ones with the problem. Then, she began using this ‘family problem’ excuse for her failure to do her job. I seriously doubt her family really puts that much stress on her because she makes it clear that she doesn’t have much to do with them. But I do believe her family history has made her a person focused on negativity, comfortable only when she’s unhappy and in the middle of some kind of drama or crisis… as if those things somehow give her what she craves.”

In this narrative, the worker described frequently engages in disruptive behavior with her co-workers. A clue to her dysfunction is revealed in the last sentence of the story: “… comfortable only when she’s unhappy and in the middle of some type of drama or crisis… “ It’s clear from this description she craves the stimulation gained from her histrionic behaviors. In fact, I contend that, on some level, she knows she’s emotionally dead without her frequent emotional outbursts and workplace antics. Unlike healthy people, this employee seeks to feel alive not through her boss’s kudos for her great work results but rather through her frequent episodes of acting out. Indeed, her game is to foment crises by spinning up her co-workers with her personal dramas. Why? Because this behavior stimulates her body’s adrenal glands which produce the effect of a physiological “high.” Her addiction then is akin to a drug addict’s substance abuse with her drug of choice being adrenaline rather than something illicit. In other words, her affinity for drama is an addictive behavior that is driven by the “rush” she feels by stirring her “crisis” pot at every opportunity.

Co-worker’s Solution – If you’re a co-worker who’s the target of a drama addicted employee, how can you constructively deal with this situation? Before providing you with my suggestion of a coping strategy, I need to make you aware of a relevant factor in this workplace dynamic. If you’re NOT the manager (or supervisor) of the drama addict but rather a peer level co-worker, you don’t have the authority to rid yourself entirely of this nuisance. Only the drama addict’s manager has this power (see Manager’s Solution below). That said, you do have the power to neutralize the drama addict in a way that limits his negative impact on your job Dramacool satisfaction. In effect, you need a strategy that puts you outside the drama addict’s sphere of attack. Accordingly, you need a behavioral response that buys you time until management makes the right decision to rehabilitate or remove this employee permanently from the workplace.

So, what should you do if engaged at work by a drama addict? Let’s start with a typical scenario. The drama addict engages you by drawing you into a discussion to support his contention that he’s a victim of someone else’s abuse. The conversation may begin innocently enough involving talk of some harmless, mundane topic. Be aware, however, that drama addicts are clever in this way. They know how to suck you into their vortex of histrionics before you realize what hit you. But once you realize that you’ve been suckered into a drama-filled rant, you must quickly react with an announcement something like “I just realized that I’ve got a deadline to meet. Sorry, but I’ve got to get back to my work to finish a project from my boss.” This response, at least temporarily, will save you from the emotional embroilment the addict has set up for you. Why will it work? Because it’s true, there’s always some work deadline to be met. So, your statement is honest unlike what you can expect from the addict. Be forewarned, however, the drama addict will follow up with you later to confirm your excuse by asking you, “By the way, did you make that deadline you mentioned yesterday?” These people are disciplined about holding others accountable as it relates to their need for emotional stimulation, but they rarely hold themselves accountable as they live mostly in the fantasy they’ve created to soothe their dysfunction.

 

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