Remember in high school when you had to endure trash-talking friends, free-flowing gossip, popularity contests, and exclusive cliques? You were sure that once you found your job in the profession you love, all of that was left behind, right?

So, are you asking yourself today if you’re back in high school because right now these behaviors are happening in your office?

The sad reality is, office can be just as drama-filled as your high school homeroom.

All of a sudden, you find yourself the subject of co-workers talking behind your back, working to recruit you to take sides in an argument or help make someone look good – but only at the expense of someone else. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to get roped into these destructive activities yourself!

But, as you remember from your high school days, drama rarely benefits anyone. It’s certainly not going to help you get ahead at work, land any promotions, or negotiate any raises.

Stay on track to a successful career by following these six rules for keeping your work life drama-free.

Rule #1: If You Did It When You Were 15, Don’t Do it Now

We’re all mature, professional adults here, right? Yet it’s easy to catch yourself doing these that are worthier of high school hallways than at the office.

For example, maybe you’re not getting along with a certain co-worker, so you give her the cold shoulder – walking past her desk and passing her in the break room without a glance her way, let alone a greeting.

You can immediately recognize this behavior as immature and inappropriate in a work setting, and it will only serve to incite more drama once the co-worker in question (and everyone else on your team) takes. notice.

Leave the nasty behavior behind and focus on interacting with your co-workers and dealing with any issues in a mature, professional way. Make a point of dealing with issues in a respectful and productive manner and keep the issue contained to the person or persons involved.

We suggest you schedule time to sit down and have a conversation that allows both sides of the issue to be discussed without attacking the other party for having a different opinion. One of the basic keys to communication is to not judge the other person. Great conversations happen when all parties ask one another what is happening in the background and work together to find the solutions.

Rule #2: Save the Venting for Outside the Office

It’s probably the most obvious rule of them all: Resist the urge to talk about your co-workers and boss to anyone other than the person involved in the perceived issue. If you need to vent, then go to an outside person that is no way connected to your work group. Make it a point to avoid past team members as they tend to be negative about companies they are no longer associated with.

It’s common office chatter:

“Did you hear what Brian said in the meeting this morning?”
“I can’t believe Lisa thought this report was good!”
“I heard Megan partied a little too hard with a client last weekend at the conference.”

That seemingly harmless chatter immediately turns offensive when the person in question happens to walk by your cubicle while you’re mid-sentence – or when word inevitably gets around that you’re talking about a colleague. You may believe others enjoy your gossiping, when in fact, it simply causes them to distrust you.

Don’t think closing your office door keeps you out of fray! That sense of security can lead to raised, frustrated voices – which can often carry through office walls.

Once again: Save the venting for when you’re away from the office and well out of earshot of anyone who works at your company. You’ll spare everyone the drama.

Rule #3: When in Doubt, Don’t Hit Send

There aren’t many things that can get your blood boiling as quickly as an email that seems to attack you, your team, or your work.

So when you do, you immediately fire off a scorching reply, contesting every point made in the email – and CCing a few key higher-ups to make your point crystal clear. Suddenly, everyone’s chiming in and taking sides on what’s now an emergency situation. You have mastered the skill of jumping into judgement, when you needed to get into curiosity.

Or, do you resort to the more passive-aggressive approach beginning your email with, “I could be wrong, but maybe my team wouldn’t have missed our deadline if the product managers had provided the research on time.” This is a great way to incite what is typically a simple misunderstanding into a full out battle within your team.

Either way, you’re encouraging drama.

So, if you find yourself beginning an email reply in a frustrated frenzy, stop and walk away from the keyboard. Let the email simmer for a while before you respond. Logically think through what you want to say – and more importantly, how to say it in a calm, diplomatic way.

Often, if you come back to the email 15 to 30 minutes later, you’ll find that you can think much more clearly – and avoid a whole lot of drama in the process.

Rule #4: Know When It’s Time to Stop Emailing and Talk it Out

To avoid unnecessary drama, you have to realize the point at which it’s better to simply talk to your co-worker in person or on the phone, rather than engage in a heated email battle. Email is not designed to be the best form of communication. Email will never replace having a verbal conversation about an idea or possible issue.

If you sense frustration, anger, or accusation in an email, and it likely can’t be resolved with one simply email reply, resolve to talk it out. You’ll find that verbal communication leaves less room for misinterpretation and is often a better vehicle for resolving problems while leaving feelings intact.

Rule #5: Have (and Use) a Go-To Escape Phrase

Even if no action of your own fuels drama, you can get caught in it anyway: A co-worker comes to you to complain about a teammate, you receive an email asking your opinion about a sensitive workplace debate that doesn’t concern you, or someone starts revealing all-too-personal details of your manager’s love life.

Your first step is to direct them back to the person they want to gossip about with a phrase such as, “Have you spoken directly to (the person or persons involved) about this?” or “I highly recommend you sit down with (person or persons involved) right away to discuss how you are feeling about this before it gets all blown out of proportion.”

To avoid getting roped in, come to the office prepared with a go-to escape phrase – a polite, but firm way to see yourself from a conversation that isn’t going anywhere productive.

Here are some examples of escape phrases:

When a co-worker starts spinning the gossip yarn (“I heard the boss knows that Sam’s looking for a new job – what do you think he’s going to do?”), shrug and say, “I can’t help you with that one. Sorry.”

Another escape phrase could include, “I’m sorry, I’m on a tight deadline and I need to get back to work”, or “I’m not feeling very chatty right now.” Whatever you feel most comfortable with, have it at the ready – and use it.

Rule #6: Never Assume Negative Intent

If you’re looking for drama, you’re going to find it.

Let’s say someone on your team sends you an email that says: “Hey Katie, I think we may need to change the approach to our marketing campaign.”

If you’re reading it under the assumption that everyone on your team is working together towards one, unified goal, you could see this as a respectful, helpful suggestion.

If, on the other hand, you’re assuming everyone wants to knock you down on their way to the top, you could interpret it as a condescending attack on all the work your team has put into the campaign so far – and an assertion that the sender clearly thinks they are better than you.

It’s pretty apparent that of the two options, the seconds is much more likely to contribute to a drama-filled workplace.

To avoid that drama, always remember to get out of judgment, and into curiousity. You can choose to simply work under the assumption that your co-workers and managers are there to help you, support you, and challenge you to produce even better work.

When you follow these rules, you’ll avoid creating and adding to workplace drama. And a workplace without drama is one that is efficient, productive and perhaps more importantly, enjoyable!

Katherine Ross
Director of Coaching