By: Kim Giles, KSL
I work in an office with mostly women and the drama is driving me crazy. Many of them read your column, so I wish you would explain what behavior is appropriate at work and how to stop overreacting, getting offended and causing problems. Also, because I don't participate in it, I am often the one who is talked about behind my back. If I bring it up and complain, I'd be contributing to the drama so I just silently take it. How should I handle that?
Inappropriate workplace drama occurs everywhere you find human beings … and unfortunately (especially) women. I wish I could say this wasn't true, but women do have a tendency to create more drama at work than men do.
I believe this happens because most women battle more internal fear (of loss and failure) than men do. Trust me, women have more fear-based thoughts than men.
They tend to think too much, and these fears create the tendency for gossip, back-biting, being offended, casting others as the bad guy, being passive aggressive, complaining and blowing things out of proportion.
Let me explain how this happens in your head.
When you are battling a fear of loss, you can become controlling, bossy or overly protective of your territory. When you are battling a fear of failure (the fear of not being good enough) you tend to subconsciously focus on the bad (or perceived bad) in everything and everyone around you to take the focus off you. You may not consciously realize you are doing this. You may subconsciously cast others as the bad guy to make you feel like the good guy and you may get offended way too easy.
When you are afraid you aren't enough (on any level), you have an easy-to-trigger “sore spot” around being insulted or thought less of. You are then subconsciously on the lookout for any word, look or behavior that could be interpreted as disapproval or an insult. You will also feel the need to talk about these offenses to others to get reassurance and validation. This is a big problem at work because this behavior will hold you back in your career.
Here are eight common workplace behaviors that will hold you back or get you passed over for promotions. (Notice that most of them are fear problems.) You may want to check yourself for bad behavior.
- Do you lack technical skills? This is a lack of education or experience and has nothing to do with fear. Great employees (who move up) are constantly looking for opportunities to improve their skill set.
- Do you have trouble accepting feedback? If you battle a fear of not being good enough, you usually can't handle feedback and may even get offended or hurt by it. In the workplace, it is critical that you are open to any and all feedback that could help you learn and grow. Feedback happens to serve you and does not diminish your value as a person (because nothing can). You are the same you with the same value no matter what feedback you get. Great employees are in trust about their absolute value, which allows them to accept constructive feedback and even ask for it. Being confident enough to recieve good feedback can launch you forward.
- Are you negative about people or the company? A subconscious fear of failure or loss can cause you to complain, blame and focus on the negative in everything around you. When you aren't happy with yourself, you tend to focus on the bad in others to distract yourself from your own faults or misfortunes. The worse you feel about yourself, the worse your attitude at work. You must fight the urge to think out loud and verbalize everything you think. Try talking less, listening more and focusing on the positive.
- Do you hesitate to take initiative or stick your neck out? Both a fear of failure and a fear of loss can cause you to stop taking risks, keep your ideas to yourself and just do the minimum to stay under the radar. This tactic might feel safe but it won't open doors for you. Also watch for feeling entitled to promotions just because you've been there awhile. Promotions are given to those who take initiative, stretch out of their comfort zone and go above and beyond the call of duty.
- Do you believe in yourself? If you don't believe in yourself and are afraid you don't cut it, others will pick up on this and they won't believe in you either. This is obviously a fear of failure problem.
- Are you overly dramatic, emotional or not professional at work? If your insecurities cause tears, breakdowns or emotional scenes at work, this is going to hold you back. This behavior is unprofessional and makes people lose respect for you. If you bring your personal problems to work or are easily offended, you may need to get some professional help. Don't expect your co-workers to be your therapist.
- Do you get along with other people? Your ability to create good relationships is what drives your value at work. If you create people problems or always end up in the middle of them, this diminishes your value to your employer. If you lack people skills, I suggest you seek out some training to improve them. Up your communication skills and learn how to handle tough conversations with confidence. A good life coach or counselor can help you do this.
- Do you create more problems than you solve? If you create more problems than you solve, you days are numbered there. They can't afford to keep you on staff if your drama affects productivity (which it always does.) Great employees understand they are there to serve their employer and their value lies in the quality of that service. If you want to rise through the ranks, focus on what you are giving and contributing to productivity on a daily basis. Be a problem solver, not a problem creator.
If you can see some of these behaviors in yourself, I strongly encourage you to work on them. You may want to ask your company to provide some people skills training or get some professional help on your own.
If you have to deal with people who are behaving badly at work, here are a couple suggestions.
Don't worry about those who talk behind your back, they are behind you for a reason.
- Ignore them as much as possible. Stay away from people who gossip or have a negative attitude at work. The less attention you give these people the better. Attention only validates them and encourages more of it. Let them know that you are busy working and don't have time to talk. After awhile they should get the hint that you aren't interested.
- If they don't get the hint, you may need to have a validating conversation about it. There is a worksheet on my website on the resources page explaining how to handle these difficult conversations. If you can come from a place of caring (without judgment) you might be able to help them see their inappropriate behavior without creating more drama in the process.
- If you are attacked by an angry or upset co-worker, ask for some time to process their complaint before responding. This will prevent you from reacting and saying things you may regret. It will also give you time to step back and see the person and their situation accurately. Remember that most attacks are more about their fears (of failure and loss) than they are about you. Also remember that this person cannot actually hurt or diminish you because your value is infinite and absolute. Try the “To Be or Not To Be Upset Worksheet” on my website resources to help with this.
In the end they will sabotage themselves, and those who are focused on adding value will rise to the top.
You can handle this.
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