Preventing Office Drama from Becoming Tragedy

Office drama, whether shouting, pouting or ignoring coworker emails, can demoralize and destabilize an organization. An intervention is needed to prevent rude behavior from becoming an epidemic.Can bad manners, petty squabbling and rudeness undermine office morale? Some workplace researchers say it can. Worse, they say it can erode productivity.

Anyone can be annoying to somebody else. But greater attention is being paid to intentional and unintentional conflict caused by office drama.

Drama can take the form of office screaming, pouting, disrespectful behavior, gossiping and failure to respond to emails.

When left unaddressed, office drama can lead to less information sharing, a reluctance to contribute ideas and an unwillingness to assist others in solving problems. Office drama can become a cultural norm in which everyone believes it is in their best interest to look out for themselves. In extreme cases, people just check out or look for employment elsewhere.

There is ample evidence that respectful behavior sets the stage for cooperation and collaboration. People may still get annoyed at the habits or mannerisms of fellow workers, but they exist in a culture of looking past annoyances to get things done.

Office coaches, such as Marie McIntyre, urge managers to look into a mirror to see what kind of culture they are cultivating — either on purpose or by default — then exert leadership to convert non-civil behavior into more healthy, productive behavior. Her point is that office cultures aren't accidental.

Some office environments, such as ones with strong-willed professionals, may intrinsically be quarrelsome. Disagreements don't have to be suppressed for the sake of culture. A culture needs to be created that converts quarrels into constructive results. 

On her website, McIntyre has a section devoted to dealing with childish adults. Her main advice is to act like an adult. Adults are self-aware enough to recognize and refrain from personal habits that annoy coworkers. They don't ignore colleagues who they dislike. They look for ways to break down barriers, not erect them. 

So if you sense a pending breakdown in office civility, do something about it before it erupts into an epidemic. Create an environment or stage an intervention to help your people get along so your organization can get on with its business.