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Dealing With Dramatic Employees

November 9th, 2018

Let’s face it: A modern office with grey upholstery and windows that overlook a parking lot just isn’t a very interesting place. Polite conversation, strained laughter, plastic coffee stirrers and repetitive tasks just don’t have much Oscar-winning movie potential. And when confined to such spaces day after day, many of us find new outlets for our emotions. If you’ve ever turned into an Olympic sprinter upon hearing news of free cake in the break room, you understand this phenomenon. And if you’ve ever felt like screaming at your desk for no reason … we understand. Some people manage these feelings more easily than others. Here’s how to deal with workers who channel their in-office emotions inappropriately or excessively —the employees we call “dramatic.”

First, judge not.

Dramatic employees are not stupid, crazy or undisciplined. We ALL feel this way when we’re placed in conducive circumstances. So, remember: The circumstances are the problem, not the person. If we decided to throw all “dramatic” employees out the door, none of us would be spared, including you. Treat others the way you would want to be treated should you find yourself in their shoes, which you eventually might.

Recognize that conflict is rarely what it seems.

Steve is extremely, unreasonably upset because Karen ate his lunch, or because Sally spoke rudely to him during a meeting, or because he thinks Amed has a secret he isn’t sharing. Before you discount Steve’s concerns, recognize this probably isn’t just about the stolen lunch. If Steve and Karen have a simmering, unspoken conflict, address the conflict, not the lunch.

People cry at work. Deal with it.

In some imaginary distant era, “professionalism” meant keeping a cool head, and keeping cool head—for some reason—absolutely precluded workplace tears. Workplace yelling may have been okay sometimes, and workplace swearing had its place, but crying was absolutely, positively, never, ever acceptable in a professional venue. Such a cultural requirement is not only impossible, it’s ridiculous. People cry. They cry at work. Let them. Accept this perfectly normal form of human expression and make sure others do as well. Occasional tears are part of healthy and functional human interaction. Keep tissues available around the office.

Maintain a culture of perspective

It feels terrible to lose an account because of a mistake, or to have a proposal rejected after weeks of work. It’s terrible to endure a botched roll-out or a product that flops. But these things happen. It’s how you bounce back—as a person and as a team—that defines your success. A climate in which “failure is not an option” breeds excessive, toxic and unnecessary drama. If you don’t want a workplace in which employees claw at each other, scream, lie, swear, hide, hold grudges or throw tantrums, don’t build rigidity into your culture. Place perspective, teamwork and learning above a relentless focus on success metrics that fall outside of your control.

For more, contact the management and career development experts at Merritt.

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