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How To Eliminate Drama at Work

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

Let's play out a common scenario:

Email from boss: Will I get that report today?

Employee Thought: Seriously? Does she not know how much I have on my plate? Doesn’t she remember that the report is due at 2pm? It’s 8am. Why is she asking? She must be mad at me. Shit. I’m tired of this. I need to find a new job.

Whoa!!!! That went south quickly.

It seems extreme, but honestly, I know you have been there. Either as the employee or unknowingly as the leader who does not understand why employees don’t seem to respect or like you.

Why Does This Happen?

The brain really loves to go full crisis. It’s called the Negativity Bias.

‘Negativity Bias’ refers to our proclivity to “attend to, learn from, and use negative information far more than positive information” (Vaish et al., 2008, p.383). We can think of it as an ‘asymmetry’ in how we process negative and positive occurrences to understand our world, one in which “negative events elicit more rapid and more prominent responses than non-negative events” (Carretié et al., 2001, p.75).

Among other things, it can explain why we often:

  • Recall and think about insults more than compliments;

  • Respond more – emotionally and physically – to averse stimuli;

  • Dwell on unpleasant or traumatic events more than pleasant ones; and

  • Focus our attention more quickly on negative rather than positive information.

Negativity bias is thought to be an adaptive evolutionary function (Carpaccio & Berntston, 1999; Vaish et al., 2008; Normal et al., 2011). Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were exposed to immediate environmental threats that we no longer need to worry about – predators, for example – and being more attentive to these negative stimuli played a useful role in survival.

Negativity bias helps us avoid potentially harmful stimuli in the absence of learned information

about ambiguous stimuli.

Absence and ambiguity are key terms when applying the negativity bias to the scenario with the micromanaging boss above.

There is much ambiguity in the request for the report. Our brain will automatically create a negative thought to fill void of known facts.

How Do We Prevent This and Eliminate Drama at Work?

1. Always try to communicate directly to understand the other person’s perspective. Reach out, and lead with a question. Drop assumptions and simply ask.

2. If you can’t (or choose not to) discuss a situation directly with another person (or group of people -Board of Directors, Leadership Team, Manager on vacation), apply an approach know as the “The Work” by Byron Katie.

“The Work”

For any thought that brings us pain:

  1. Is it true?

  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

  3. How do you react when you believe that thought?

  4. Who would you be without the thought?

Question #2 is powerful. You can never know anything to be true (unless you ask).

That means that there is a significant chance that the boss’s request has nothing to do with you (remember the negativity bias??).

Since you have fabricated a thought, you get to choose another one.

Let’s replay the scenario.

Email from boss: Will I get that report today?

Employee Thought: Something important must have happened that requires my boss to be confident that she will get this report. She is setting us both up for success. I’ll reach out to her to learn more.

This sounds like a much better scenario for everyone. May you indeed find out that your boss is mad? Possibly. But at least it would be grounded in clear facts and not an imagined crisis. When you communicate directly then you can address any real issues.

And here’s a bonus tip—This works in our personal relationships too. Ever have this play out at the dinner table or over a text????

At BauerHouse

This ‘curiosity driven’ approach is a key element of coaching at BauerHouse. I work with individuals and leadership teams to make this the norm. In doing so, we reduce drama, increase retention, and improve outcomes in all areas of the business.

Schedule a free consultation call to learn more about coaching with me:

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