Is Workplace Drama Wearing You Down?
An interview with drama researcher Cy Wakeman.
Posted Nov 17, 2019
How much time do you think you lose at work to people’s venting, lack of accountability, or resistance to change? Let’s face it, it’s human nature to put on our judgment goggles and complain, blame, and withhold our support when things aren’t going the way we think they should. But what’s the cost of these behaviors when it comes to your energy and productivity?
“On average, we’ve found that employees lose up to two and a half hours each day in workplace drama,” explained drama researcher, Cy Wakeman, when I interviewed her recently. “Add this up, and you’ll find that 816 hours a year, per person, in every organization, represents billions of dollars of lost productivity.”
What’s creating all the emotional drama in workplaces?
Cy’s studies have found that:
- 32% are due to ego-driven distortions of realities caused by our tendency to respond emotionally to everything we think, which leads to venting, judging, score-keeping, gossiping, and tattling. In fact, we’ve gotten so good at venting that even if we're not venting out loud, we're venting anonymously through surveys.
- 23% are due to a lack of accountability. We might blame the others or challenging circumstances, rather than reflect on the part that we play in a situation.
- 13–14% is the result of resisting change and withholding buy-in for account for 13% and 14%, respectively, of workplace drama.
- 8% is caused by practices that try to foster engagement without accountability, which leads to entitlement. So no matter what an organization gives its people, they just want more.
“The drama and the resulting costs can be avoided when we make an active commitment to move through the world more skillfully,” explained Cy. “Unfortunately, traditional leadership tools and approaches that are taught and used in many workplaces are fueling rather than defusing this drama. But the role of a leader should be to eliminate emotional waste by teaching good mental processes.”
To minimize drama, Cy recommends leaders help their people to:
- Question their stories – A great drama diffuser is self-reflection. Often people’s stories about things can be harsher than the reality, so they can be suffering from a self-imposed story and not the actual reality. Try asking, “What do I know for sure?” to help free the ego’s grip on the story. It's such a powerful question that it can change everything without changing anything. When you get out of the grip of your story, you can find ways to meet your situation, and life becomes gentle again.
- Focus on adding value – Focusing on finding ways to add value can prevent people from becoming stuck in the past and operating from their stories and judgments. Encouraging people to ask the questions "How can I help?" or “What did I do to help?” can instantly move them away from venting and into compassion, creating a willingness to move forward with higher consciousness, and to do their best work.
- Create inner safety – By learning the skills within yourself, psychological safety becomes portable. This means people can become less dependent on the behavior of others and the environment that they’re in. The reality is that we are all imperfect and make mistakes. When you create your psychological safety through handling your story with grace, tolerance, mercy, the ability to make amends, you can carry your safety with you. Rather than argue with reality, let other people off the hook, claim them as your best teachers, learn to operate even in that environment in higher consciousness, and then seek a different environment. Stay, enjoy, and then leave in peace to go on to the next thing in life.
How can you use self-reflection and accountability to help shift emotional dramas at work?