Nothing ever really changes. Sure, we grow up and leave high school and trade lockers and book bags for cubicles and coffee cups, but many of our childish behaviors follow us into adulthood. No wonder there’s so much petty drama in the workplace.
Katie Douthwaite Wolf, a staff writer and editor at the Muse, is the first to admit this, but in a terrific piece titled “6 Basic Rules You Need to Follow if You Truly Want to Avoid Office Drama,” she offers first-rate advice on making the workplace environment a little more hospitable. First up: Cut the teenage stuff. The solution starts with you, in other words, and if you’re upset with someone and inclined to, say, give them the cold shoulder and ignore them in the break room, don’t do it.
“Leave the angsty behavior behind and focus on interacting with your co-workers and dealing with any issues in a mature, professional way,” Wolf writes.
Her second piece of advice is to refrain from venting in the office. Neither closing your door nor speaking in a soft voice ensures that you won’t get discovered, and it’s possible the person you’re miffed at or gossiping about will walk by your desk and get offended. As Wolf writes, it’s much better to wait until you’re off the premises to commence bellyaching.
If that one is about location, Wolf’s third tip is all about time. When you feel yourself getting ready to write a snarky, sarcastic, or flat-out angry reply email, step away from the keyboard and think about what you’re doing. Even 15 or 30 minutes can make the difference between typing something you’ll regret and moving ahead with more sensible discourse.
“Let the email simmer for a while before you respond,” Wolf advises. “Logically think through what you want to say — and more importantly, how to say it in a calm, diplomatic way.”
In some situations, email won’t be enough to solve your problems, and that’s why Wolf makes her next tip “know when it’s time to talk it out.” Creating long email chains can be dangers, especially when you CC higher-ups, and when you speak with someone face to face, there’s less chance for misunderstanding.
Tip No. 5 is about exit strategy. When coworkers start gossiping or venting or engaging in unprofessional activities you’d rather not get involved in, say something like, “I can’t help you with that one. Sorry.” Wolf borrows that phrase from career coach Lea McLeod, and while it works in most situations, you can also make up excuses for why you’re too busy to chat.
Lastly, Wolf says you should “never assume negative intent.” If, by default, you read emails as passive-aggressive attacks on you and your work, you’re bound to get defensive. But what if that suggestion from your teammate about, say, modifying your presentation or marketing strategy is genuinely aimed at achieving the group’s overall goals? Not everyone is out to get you. Some people really do want to help. That’s what you should tell yourself, anyway.