Gossiping, backstabbing, bullying and complaining co-workers will ensnare even the best employees into their unhappy world of drama and deceit. In so doing, problem employees transform otherwise efficient, benign corporate environments into tawdry scenes from Ally McBeal, The Office, House or any number of comedy shows poking fun at the dysfunctional American workplace.
In the real world, though, office drama isn't funny. It creates stress, drains employees of energy and hampers productivity. To address these conflicts, managers and individual co-workers need to understand the "drama type" of employees creating this toxic work environment, says Kaley Klemp, co-author of The Drama-Free Office: A Guide to Healthy Collaboration with Your Team, Coworkers, and Boss.
"It's important to know who's engaged in the drama so you can get at the root cause of the conflict," she says.
The four primary "drama types" as described by Klemp, who is also a leadership and teambuilding coach, include: complainers, cynics, controllers and caretakers. Knowing how to handle each of these types of people will help you ward off thorny, stressful situations that could jeopardize your career.
After all, power plays end with a victor and a vanquished. Which side do you want to be on?
Here, Klemp explains the characteristics of each drama type, the kinds of conflict they create, and offers advice on how to deal with them.
Characteristics: Beyond the obvious, complainers don't take accountability for their performance (or lack of). Instead, they blame everyone around them for not getting their work done. They also like to gossip and often fail to complete their work on time.
Conflicts: Because they point their fingers at everyone else, complainers brew ill-will among their co-workers and managers.
Tips for Handling: Klemp advises managers to listen to complainers just once. "The complainer's story is usually, 'Woe is me. I don't have enough resources to do my project. No one supports me.'" If you repeatedly listen to this same tale of woe, you risk getting sucked into their drama, she warns.
When the complainer finishes her spiel, Klemp recommends that the manager remind her that everyone is working with limited resources and to ask her what she believes her options are for getting her work done.
"The goal is to establish a clear agreement about what is going to happen by when," says Klemp. "If you let the [complainer's] story continue, the cycle will repeat itself."
Characteristics: Cynics are sarcastic and often arrogant, says Klemp. They can also be manipulative.
Conflicts: They're just plain difficult to work with.
Tips for Handling: Klemp recommends starting any conversation with a cynic about their attitude or behavior by complimenting them. "Give them a sincere compliment, tell them something you admire about them," says Klemp. "They'll be much more open to your 'This isn't working for me' conversation if they know you're coming from a place of care."