As the resident office ninja, you may actually be the one person in the office who knows everyone’s name. When times are good, you’re basically like Sam Malone on a Friday night at Cheers; everything’s running smoothly, the regulars are happy, and you look like a total pro.
But when things at the office are a little tense, you may feel more like Moe Szyslak on the night of a Duff shortage.
Office drama comes in all shapes and sizes, and chances are you’re smack dab in the middle of at least some of it. It’s not your job to squash all negativity, but it is in your best interest to avoid, work around, or rise above it. Left unchecked, office drama will rob you of your productivity and slowly chip away at your psyche.
I’ve pulled together four of the most common workplace conflicts with pointers on how to identify and ultimately overcome them.
1. Middle School Antics
If your office has evolved past cliques and rumors, congratulations! But let me assure you that you’re in the minority. All that schoolyard BS is alive and well, and it’s just as ugly on a fully grown sales director as it was on the 5th grade bully.
You’ve likely cultivated a core group of office pals, but try your best to find opportunities to be friendly with all of your coworkers. Make small talk in the kitchen, invite someone new on a group coffee run, compliment peoples’ shoes and say “good morning” to everyone you pass in the hallway. Forming cliques and being exclusive can work against you, as you never know who will get promoted or end up on your project team.
You can avoid gossip by being a boring gossiper. If you don’t appear excited to indulge in a juicy secret or have any rumors of your own to contribute, the office gossips will move on to more engaged participants. You may temporarily feel a little left out, but you’re better off staying out of it. Gossiping can backfire big time, making you out to be shady and unprofessional.
But…Okay, what if you can’t help gossiping just a little bit? If you just gotta gab, be smart about it.
Save those hushed conversations for an offsite lunch where you’re less likely to be overheard by colleagues.
Don’t put anything in an email or instant messenger that you wouldn’t want printed on the company letterhead.
Know your audience; if your gossip partner begins every sentence with “So-and-So swore me to secrecy, so you can’t repeat this…” do you really think your secrets are safe?
When it comes to office happy hours, maintain a two-drink maximum. When your inhibitions get all loosey-goosey, you’re more likely to spill the beans or generate fresh content for the rumor mill.
2. Low Morale
This tends to sink in during or after times of significant transition or upheaval (think mass layoffs or the resignation of a beloved leader). And I use the word “sink” because that’s exactly what it feels like. Everyone’s kind of listless and unmotivated. There’s a palpable heaviness in the air, and it feels like things will never go back to the way they once were.
It’s important to remember that energy—both good and bad—is contagious. Even if low morale has spread throughout the office, you’re likely dealing with a spectrum of coworkers that range from a Debbie Downer to an Andy Cohen.
The downers will want to speculate and obsess over how terrible everything is, while those with a more positive outlook will vent and do their best to move on. Dig yourself out of the dumps by joining the latter group. If the resident complainer hovers over your desk, peppering you with deep sighs and eye-rolls, smile politely and offer a potential solution to one of their many problems. Solutions are like kryptonite for complainers.
3. Office Hook-ups
People will tell you to avoid dating coworkers because it can get messy and complicated. Yes, that can certainly happen. But, I’ve also seen office hook-ups turn into serious relationships that eventually led to happy marriages. It makes sense that you might find your significant other at work; you have common professional interests, plus 40+ hours a week to get to know each other.
The trick is to keep office romance on the Hughley until you both agree you’re in it for the long haul. Booty calls and “cubemates with benefits” arrangements are no one else’s business, but you’ll probably want your relationship to be publicly acknowledged at some point before you send out the wedding invitations. When you both recognize that the benefits of going public outweigh the risks, begin to introduce signs of coupledom at the office. A happy hour makeout session is probably not the best way to go, but feel free to arrive and leave together, or better yet, tell your office pals /gossipers.
4. Everyone Hates You
Did you come on too strong during your first week at the office? Accidentally insult the most influential person in the office? Become “teacher’s pet” to the senior manager that no one can stand? Oops, everyone hates you. Okay, “hate” is a harsh word. Everyone thinks you’re insufferable.
This is a tough one. Unless you’re a sociopath, others’ opinions and feelings toward you will likely affect how you feel about yourself. It’s hard to excel at the office when all you can think is, “Everyone hates me!” If appropriate, heartfelt apologies are generally appreciated, but resist the urge to grovel or shower your colleagues with homemade baked goods. Same goes for trying to prove how cool you really are. You’ll just end up looking desperate.
If you find yourself friendless at the office, take the opportunity to completely throw yourself into your work. (There’ll be no pleasant small talk to distract you!) You were hired for your skills and expertise, so do a stellar job from this point on and remind everyone why you’re there. People will eventually get over your blunder and come to appreciate you for your work and contributions to the company.
If you’re smart and proactive about it, office drama doesn’t need to be a huge time suck. It can even help you hone your problem-solving skills, teach you to navigate interpersonal challenges, and toughen you up for bigger challenges that lie ahead. As the very wise Kelly Clarkson once said…
Did I miss any major categories of office drama? What are some of your tips and tricks for dealing with workplace conflict?