Workplace drama is unnecessary and quite frankly, annoying! Do we really need to bring melodrama into the workplace?
Of course, where there are humans, there will be some sort of conflict, but there are usually solutions to at least diffuse the constant emotional unloading. The question is, is the person who is in the drama wanting a solution to their problem, or do they want to be comforted?
This question is very important, and it is something we will be exploring in today’s episode. First asking this question, then what to do when you receive the answer.
As a kind leader, your first instinct is to want to move on from the drama so everyone can get back to work in a healthy environment, but these are real situations that happen. So having the tools in place before they come up is very important to diffuse the situation as it comes up.
Tune in today for helpful tips on how to move on from workplace drama and cultivate a kind work environment for everyone!
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It’s confession time. Office Drama is my absolute, no question, number 1 workplace pet peeve. I mean…what’s the point? I didn’t get the appeal of that kind of nonsense in junior high, and I certainly don’t understand it out here in the real world. Maybe that’s why a while back, when I discovered an excellent question anyone can use to nip drama in the bud, I briefly considered getting it tattooed on my arm or something as a quick reference guide. I didn’t go quite that far, but I AM gonna share it with you today.
Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge, where I empower educational and library leaders like you to build a better world! I’m Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild. My PhD in higher ed Leadership, my experience coaching, consulting, and presenting to library leaders all over the world, and a career working in academic libraries from the front desk to the Dean’s office taught me that leaders can transform their organizations without burning out. And now I’m sharing those same lessons with you.
Here's the deal. You give me the next few minutes of your day. In return, I'll share short stories and simple challenges designed to heal yourself and your school or library, so you can get back to making the impact you wish to see in your communities. By embarking on each week’s challenge on your own or in our private facebook group, you and your team will begin growing humanely, managing effectively, and partnering collaboratively, and your school or library will build a more informed and educated world along the way.
How can you successfully navigate challenging conversations so that you can transform your team culture and acquire the resources you need to thrive? Mastering Challenging Conversations is a free guide to applying the principles of kind leadership to planning, conducting, and moving forward from any challenging leadership conversation. Just go to Kindleadershipchallenge.com/conversations, enter your email and start having the conversations that will impact your community for the better.
Oh, and if you do so before September 2nd, you’ll be entered in a free drawing which I’ll share at the end of the episode.
But yeah, like I said, I have zero patience for complaints or badmouthing about a person or situation when it’s not immediately followed with a plan to resolve it. To be clear, I’m no saint in this department, and I certainly do my share of venting to trusted friends and advisors. But that venting is as much a possible done with the goal of processing my emotions so I can get into the headspace where I can make the decisions I need to make to productively handle the situation.
Which brings me to the magic question I alluded to at the top. Which is:
Are you looking for comfort or solutions?
Now, I couldn’t tell you for 100% sure where I picked this up, as I was a bad leadership scholar and didn’t note the source when I jotted it down in my notebook or random ideas. But after tracing back through google I think it was originally from a tweet by one Alexander James that went viral about a year and a half ago, which I’ll link in the show notes. Alexander discussed the question in context of the issue in many romantic relationships where one party needs to offload emotions while their partner leaps to problem-solving mode. However, I immediately saw its utility for leadership conversations in general, and workplace drama specifically.
First, the Comfort vs Solutions framing helps me approach a conversation from the right stance to help a colleague or team member. You are not and should not be a therapist for the people who report to you, but up to a point helping a team member to feel heard will help build the trust and psychological safety required for the moments when you need to shift a conversation away from venting and complaining toward something more productive. I’ve coached leaders whose teams have struggled to let go of a past injustice or struggle, but the leader just wants to move on. However, oftentimes there can be merit in listening a bit longer to figure out if there is something they can do to help their team feel heard. And a lot of the time, a little more patience and listening does the trick. But not always, and that’s where the other use of the magic question comes in.
Let’s say you’ve got a team member who has a bit in their teeth about a colleague, or a situation. It’s not something you can fix, but nevertheless they WILL NOT LET IT GO. It comes up every time you talk, and discussing it doesn’t seem to be helping them process the situation. You’re just going through the same circle over and over and over again. So the next time you get into this dead end cycle and have no more comfort to give…
…ask the question.
Are you Looking for Comfort or Solutions?
And then, lay down your boundaries. If they say they’re looking for solutions, stop talking about the complaint, and shift to the strategy. Help them brainstorm a plan to resolve their challenge, come up with a deadline for them to execute it, and send them on their merry way to go take action. But if they’re looking for comfort, then you have a meeting in ten minutes. Or a big report that you need to get done at the end of the day. Or something else you have to handle that takes priority. And politely but firmly end the conversation.
It may not be the most pleasant conversation of your day, but you’ll both have learned a lot about your boundaries and expectations.
So, is it time for you to ask someone the magic question? Or are you realizing that you’re stuck in a similar drama cycle yourself? Share your realizations in the Kind Leadership Challenge facebook community, which you can conveniently find at kindleadershipchallenge.com/community. And if you enter your email when you do the entrance questions, you’ll get a copy of Mastering Challenging conversations, AND be entered in my drawing on September 2 for a free copy of Joan Gallos’ and Lee Bolman’s Reframing Academic Leadership.
Thanks for listening and for taking action to become a kinder leader. If you found this week’s episode insightful, give the show a rating or review—or even better, tell your fellow leaders! Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.