How Office Drama Costs Your Organization, Part 1
A great story about a good meeting gone bad (0:40)
What happened immediately after the drama (5:00)
What this cost the organization so far (7:50)
The story continues, and so do the distractions and chaos (8:30)
Taking a closer look at what did (and didn’t) happen there (21:10)
How to prevent this drama and chaos in your organization (23:25)
How Office Drama Costs Your Organization
The following story is based on a situation that recently occurred in an organization I was working with. Names and details have been altered for confidentiality.
As you read the tale, think about all the places where you see key resources – time and, therefore, money – leaking out of this organization. After the story, I offer a few questions to consider and a way to prevent this from happening in your organization. ~BW
The Story: A Meltdown in a Meeting
We’ve all had that experience when we walk away from a meeting, shaking our heads and wondering, “What the heck just happened in there?”
You know how it goes: There’s a team meeting about the best way to approach a new project, and there are a lot of brainstorming and opinions and different personalities in the room. At first, the meeting is going along just fine, just like it always does, with people offering ideas.
And then Jaden – a reasonable and steady guy who’s normally quiet and reserved, and goes along with the majority – puts forward a new idea. Unfortunately, with all the brainstorming and lively discussion, his soft voice just doesn’t rise to the top, and he’s not one to compete with strong personalities.
But in his last performance review, Jaden was given feedback that he needs to find his voice on the team and find a way to have his ideas heard. He feels pretty vulnerable in doing this, but he decides today is the day. He wasn’t heard the first time, so he starts to interject his idea again.
The discussion has been moving quickly, however, and that moment has passed. He tries to interject one more time, when Haley, the project manager as well as his supervisor – who is quite action- and results-oriented – brushes him off with a wave of her hand and says, “Jaden, we’ve moved on from that. It’s already been decided.”
This is not an uncommon response for Haley, who is a quick decision maker. She is always eager to spend less time analyzing and making decisions and get to the solutions.
You’re in this meeting with Haley and Jaden, and you notice a sudden shift in Jaden’s body language. You’re attentive, so you see him stiffen, and you notice that his face is reddening just a bit, and his eyes are hardening just a little. You see his fist subtly tightening around his pen as he taps it a few times on his notepad, a little harder and a little louder than might be necessary. It appears he’s trying to stifle his anger, which isn’t a behavior you’ve noticed in him before.
What Jaden doesn’t realize is that, due to his vulnerability, his fight-or-flight response has become triggered by Haley’s dismissive response, and he’s about to suddenly and unexpectedly react.
With more energy than seems appropriate, Jaden signals that he is withdrawing from further participation. He says in a short, curt way, “Fine. If that’s the way you want it, that’s the way you’ll get it. My opinion certainly doesn’t matter,” and then he looks down at his notes and distracts himself by shuffling papers.
And the healthy dialogue that’s been driving the meeting shuts down, and the situation becomes awkward.
The Meeting Meltdown’s Aftermath
Everyone in the room is now occupied with giving Jaden a wide berth and pretending that everything’s fine, just like normal. Haley tries to keep moving the agenda forward, but it’s as if all the creative air in the room has just been sucked out. She doesn’t know what to do, so she wraps up the meeting.
As the meeting ends, Jaden makes his exit first – first and fast. Everyone else packs up their stuff and exchanges pleasantries, but they’re also making statements with their eyes that indicate – awkward! As soon as you get to your desk, you text your teammates saying, “Wow, what was that about?” and then you text a colleague who wasn’t at the meeting: “You aren’t going to believe what just happened...”
Then you spend the next 30 minutes trying to get into that project you had planned to work on after the meeting – but that was before the meeting blew up. Now, you’re only partially focused because your phone keeps dinging with text notifications regarding the drama, and that’s really much more fun than compiling data into a report, despite that 3:00 deadline that’s looming over you. Oh well, you can just ask for an extension. You don’t do that very often, and focusing seems out of the question right now.
And you aren’t the only one who is distracted. Of the eight people in the meeting, six of them are now processing what just happened with at least one other person, some not on the team. Now there are at least 13 other people speculating about the drama and identifying (according to their limited perspective) who is to blame…
Was Jaden unreasonable? Is Haley not that great of a leader? Maybe the people who wouldn’t give Jaden any space to share his idea are to blame?
The Cost of the Blame Game
Following this type of blowup, assigning blame becomes the number one activity, because it is much more entertaining than taking a hard look at how we, personally, have shown up and communicated effectively – or not.
With the culture and climate in this workplace, Jaden’s inability to recognize and appropriately deal with his feelings of vulnerability and being triggered – combined with Haley’s lack of skill in dealing with what happened and processing it in the moment – has generated a buzz that’s moving through the building, from desk to desk. The distraction could cost their organization at least 20 to 30 collective hours.
This type of scenario wastes a finite, and therefore, most precious, resource – TIME.
Time that is very expensive. In fact, for most organizations, the cost of employee time is the largest expense on their profit and loss statement.
Fortunately, this waste of time and money is avoidable, and I can help with that. But first, let’s see how this story plays out…
After the Aftermath
Haley’s distraction lasts the rest of the day, so she’s not fully present in the meetings that follow. She contemplates asking Jaden to come chat, but she fears he may become angry again, and she doesn’t have the skills to handle that. There is a task she was going to delegate to him this afternoon, but she decides to avoid Jaden altogether and give the assignment to his colleague Sharon, instead.
Jaden overhears Haley asking Sharon to come to her office. Knowing that Haley generally delegates to him and rarely to Sharon, Jaden’s regret over his outburst increases. He wonders how much damage he’s done to his reputation and his relationship with Haley. He thinks, “I shouldn’t have tried to get my point across. God, I suck at this!” as he begins a cycle of isolation, shame, and regret.
His confidence is shaken, and he has that feeling you get when you suspect that everybody’s watching you. He’s unable to focus on much of anything for the rest of the morning. He brought his lunch today, and he usually enjoys the light banter with his co-workers at the lunch table, but when lunchtime arrives, he decides to duck out and get some comfort food – and maybe start scanning the job posting boards, just in case.
At lunch, Sharon mentions to her friend, Victor, who works in accounting, that Haley requested a meeting with her later in the day, and she just can’t imagine what it’s about. When Victor tells Sharon about Jaden’s reaction in the meeting, it’s the first she’s heard of it.
The problem is that Victor wasn’t at the meeting; he heard about it from his colleague, Adriana, who was. And as humans often do, when Victor repeats the story, he makes it just a tad more interesting with a little story expansion here and there.
Sharon comes back from lunch really concerned about Jaden. She knows he was looking for a new apartment because she overheard him on the phone. Maybe his relationship is on the rocks, or maybe he is having money trouble. Maybe Jaden is one of those quiet people who finally just blows up and then everybody’s shocked. Sharon feels kind of sad because she really likes working with him.
At that moment, Jaden glances over in Sharon’s direction and catches her looking directly at him.
And in the next moment, he decides his suspicion is correct; everybody knows he reacted badly, and everybody is watching him. His shame increases, and he gives up trying to do any work. Instead, he starts planning his job search. He worries about disappointing his wife when he tells her that he’s going to look for another job. They just rented a beautiful, bigger apartment in a little bit more expensive building…
How does this story reflect your personal experiences?
As you read this tale—
Did it sound plausible to you?
Did you see any behaviors you have engaged in or that you’ve seen others engage in?
Did you see anything that felt similar to your experiences with your organization or team?
What assumptions were you tempted to make about Jaden or Haley?
Here are a few more questions to consider—
How many people do you think got sucked in by this one simple moment of drama and the resulting distraction?
Did you notice how many people came up with their own assumption or version of what happened?
Did you notice how people started making decisions based on misinformation?
How to Prevent This Drama and Chaos in Your Organization
My Navigating Challenging Dialogue (NCD) Skills Training and Certified Trainer workshops can help your management and staff avoid all of this drama and confusion. Using this story as an example—
Jaden would have:
Access to an NCD Certified Trainer who could mentor him and work with him on how to speak clearly and have his voice heard so he could participate more effectively in meetings.
Discovered his personal signals that he was being triggered, as well learned strategies to mitigate and stop the impact of his triggers when he’s feeling stressed or vulnerable.
Learned how to better manage himself in situations where clear and clean communication is required even when he’s feeling the symptoms of triggering.
Haley would have:
Learned how to ask clarifying questions and facilitate healthy dialogue in a meeting when many voices, personalities, and communication styles are in the room.
The seven other people at the meeting would have:
Practiced and developed skills with asking clarifying questions and being supportive in ways that would help Jaden communicate and have a voice at the meeting.
Known that when everybody gets to have a voice and contribute, the end result is often a co-create that’s more meaningful and relevant than what a few solo voices create together.
In the aftermath:
Everyone in the scenario who engaged in gossip would have understood how gossip creates drama, distracts us from doing the work at hand, and takes us further away from achieving our goals.
Victor would have learned skills for communicating facts.
Sharon would have learned skills for avoiding assumptions.
What else do you see that could have been avoided, had this organization made an investment in Navigating Challenging Dialogue?
If you’d like to find out how your organization can reduce the costs of wasted time and have more ease in achieving its goals, contact us at (phone number) or (email address), or visit NavigatingChallengingDialogue.com to learn more about holding a Navigating Challenging Dialogue Skills Training, or having a Navigating Challenging Dialogue Certified Trainer on your staff.
p.s. For the challenging dialogues faced by Haley and others in the management tier, listen to the podcast or return for next week’s “episode”!