Your goal is to deflect, disarm and detach explains Michelle Ray

Imagine if it were true that most people excitedly leap out of bed each work day shrieking “I can’t wait to annoy my colleagues.” Although it may be a bit of a stretch to suggest that workplace “saboteurs “exist in large numbers, the fact remains that certain individuals take great pleasure in causing chaos at work, while others are completely oblivious to the damage inflicted by their dysfunctional, drama-based behaviour. Unfortunately, the potential for drama to escalate is an ongoing problem, especially when one considers the fact that stress and overwhelm affect millions of people on a personal and professional level.

If you are experiencing the brunt of the theatrics displayed by the drama “queens” and “kings” in your workplace, the question becomes: “React? Or not?” Are their effective strategies available to mitigate the drama? Absolutely! But first, you must accept the following premise: You cannot control other people’s bad behaviour. You can, however, manage yourself.

The most effective approaches do require action on your part. And at times, doing nothing is the optimum response. The key is to recognize the reasons for your own reactivity around certain people. Simply put, people who continue to get under your skin are successful because they know how to push the right buttons.

Understand drama-based behaviour

All behaviour is learned. This includes the way you react or respond to others. Those who have mastered the art of disconnecting from drama have decided that “enough is enough.” They have chosen to apply a different methodology and are able to accept the fact that they have a choice: i.e. continue to buy in; or find a way to rise above the situation. Most importantly, they understand that drama-based behaviour is not personal.

Consider the example of working with an individual who never greets his or her colleagues. Perhaps this person is an introvert, or it could be a case of waking up on the wrong side of the bed every day and choosing not to partake in any social “graces” such as acknowledging your presence. Or, they may be oblivious to the fact that their silence is bothersome. In other words, he or she may simply be operating as himself or herself. There is no agenda, yet the “non-response” makes some people uncomfortable. If you encounter this scenario in your workplace, what matters more is whether you choose to be bothered by it, speak up, or let it go. Whatever you decide, you can’t control the outcome. However, you can control the lens you use to evaluate the situation.

Core reasons behind drama escalation

Renowned emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman has described an individual’s “emotional quotient” (EQ) as a “priceless commodity.” Research conducted by Goleman and leading providers of emotional intelligence analytics report that there is a direct correlation between high levels of EQ and high levels of performance at work. Surprisingly, many organizations fail to emphasize the importance of emotional accountability. i.e. taking responsibility for practicing emotional intelligence and being cognizant of behaviours that negatively impact workplace culture.

When drama-based behaviour goes unchecked, many people feel frustrated by the lack of accountability on the part of the instigators, as well as managers. As a result, the potential for drama and conflict escalates. In order to change the pattern, greater priority ought to be given to professional development opportunities in the areas of interpersonal communication, conflict management and collaborative workplace relationships.

Having been on the receiving end of a manager’s tyrannical, aggressive leadership style, I felt an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. I lacked the skills to effectively manage myself and, as a result, I shut down and resigned myself to the fact that the relationship would continue to deteriorate. And I was right.

One of the biggest reasons for high levels of disengagement in organizations of every description is the existence of dysfunctional workplace relationships at all levels. It is easy to understand why many people become disenchanted, disheartened and disillusioned, especially when there is a foreboding sense of gloom and fear that nothing will change. Many years later I realized that the dynamic between my boss and myself represented a major turning point; a teachable experience that afforded me the opportunity to take charge of myself and take the lead in my career.

There is no question that organizations could mitigate absenteeism and turnover by paying greater attention to the emotional impact of drama. Understandably, many of us prefer avoiding difficult conversations without realizing that we are doing a disservice to ourselves. Unfortunately, when the skills, desire and intestinal fortitude needed to take charge of the dysfunction are lacking, the status quo prevails. The famous poet anonymous declared: ‘nothing changes if nothing changes.” What are you willing to do to make a difference and contribute to a happier workplace atmosphere? When individuals and teams decide to positively express solutions, everyone benefits, and engagement increases as a result.

Learn to detach from drama

Two burning questions regarding drama-based behaviour are “why does he or she do it?” and “what can I do about it?” The answers are straight-forward.

First, all humans have a desire for self-expression. Emotions such as fear and anger are natural. We have the capacity to be the best, as well as the worst, version of ourselves. Unfortunately, the latter has negative consequences, both personal and professional. Constant reactivity may affect one’s health. In addition, on-going conflict and drama can impact productivity, morale and the bottom line. Therefore, it is incumbent on all to acquire the skills to manage ourselves, for our own self-care, self-preservation and for the betterment of workplace relationships.

Second, it is worthwhile keeping in mind the words of Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again but expecting different results.” If a person intends to ruffle your feathers, he or she will be successful to the degree that you allow it. The more you give a person permission to provoke with words and actions, the more likely they will continue to antagonize and create havoc. The solution lies in changing your pattern of interaction. Remember, there is a difference between people who have problems and people who are problems!

As mentioned previously, the instigator’s difficult behaviour, as well as your reactivity, are learned responses. The adage: “one attracts more flies with sugar than vinegar” is highly applicable when dealing with drama and dysfunction at work. Whether your colleague who causes you to become frustrated, irritated or angry is doing so intentionally (or otherwise), matching “fire with fire” will likely create greater tension. Ask yourself: Are you rewarding the very behaviour that causes you angst by reacting in a similar fashion?

The art of “me” management

Preserving your peace of mind in difficult situations requires a heightened sense of self-awareness.  There is a difference between managing and coping, the former being a more effective long-term strategy. When faced with antagonistic, theatrical and irritating behaviour, your goal is to deflect, disarm and detach as quickly as possible.

Individuals who are taking the lead in challenging conversations are not seeking to teach people lessons. They recognize that it is not their business to play the role of arbiter when it comes to correcting another person’s behaviour. If that were the case, then the strategy would infer an aggressive rather than assertive style. By taking charge of the situation, you have no hidden agenda. You are taking a values-based approach by looking after your side of the street, and yours alone.

In my experience facilitating presentations and workshops on this topic, I have discovered that the true source of angst and resistance to applying solutions emanates from unrealistic expectations from those on the receiving end of the drama. As a result of hearing our pearls of wisdom, we want the other person to change, apologize and become respectful overnight. In a nutshell, the option of managing oneself seems overwhelming and “unfair.” Yet it is in that very moment that the seeds of ongoing resentment are planted. A negative mindset yields a negative result. On the other hand, when one is prepared to fully embrace the concept of self-leadership, the process becomes easier.

Is it possible to eradicate all drama-based behaviour? While this may be a lofty objective, it is certainly possible to minimize the impact by practicing the art of “me” management. By making a conscious decision to disengage and take the high road, you can be successful. The theologian-philosopher, Reinhold Niebuhr, said it best in his Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Born in Australia and now residing in Vancouver, Canada, Michelle Ray is a sought-after thought leader, business keynote speaker and author of Lead Yourself First! Indispensable Lessons in Business and in Life.

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