office drama

Office Drama: Putting an End to a Poisonous Climate

None of us is immune to the effects of office drama at work. It doesn’t matter if it’s self-created or a colleague’s drama that sucks you into its vortex; it’s damaging to the work climate and culture. It also undermines your own morale and work satisfaction. The bottom line is office drama sucks.

The organizational and personal impact of office drama negatively influences team performance and individual productivity. The negativity of drama leads to stress. Research shows that stress leads to nearly 50 percent of voluntary, employee turnover. What’s more, drama undermines the feeling of safety in the workplace. This negates an employees’ courageous spirit, a key input to workplace innovation.

Reverse Office Drama’s Damage

Fleet Maull, author, consultant, and executive coach, advocates radical responsibility as a way to reverse office drama’s damage. Maull explains radical responsibility operates in a “no blame” culture where employees embrace responsibility for their actions. The key to this is that employees recognize the role of choice. When we are sucked into drama, it’s tempting to become a victim, an outcome, Maull says, that limits a person’s power to find a solution to the very thing triggering the drama. We choose whether or not to be a victim of office drama.

Some of the “tricks” Maull advocates for radical responsibility include these:

  • Ask yourself, “what can I do if I don’t like this situation?”
  • Create a culture of feedback where good performance or underperformance is discussed in a timely manner
  • Prevent drama triangles from spreading throughout the team

Office Drama Triangles

Psychologist Dr. Stephen Karpman labeled the dynamics of stressful, dramatic interactions as “Drama Triangles.” In these interactions, someone plays the perpetrator, someone plays the victim, and someone the rescuer.


The perpetrator initiates the drama and hurts the victim in the process. Instead of dealing directly with the perpetrator, the victim tells the rescuer about the “wrong” that was done to them. The rescuer goes to the perpetrator and attempts to right the wrong.

The dysfunction with this interaction is that the victim pulls another person into the office drama, the rescuer, and doesn’t resolve it directly with the person causing it, the perpetrator. The victim allows the rescuer to speak on his behalf. The victim avoids responsibility for his own feelings and actions. Not only is this unprofessional, it’s also powerless.

Nip office drama in the bud by dealing directly with the person causing it. Don’t spread it around the office. It only creates a negative work environment and culture. Of course, if you’re the cause of the office drama, it’s time to explore the root of your dissatisfaction with work or in your personal life. Own it and uncover ways to break the negative behavior.



Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • 1Whitewater1

    …some work environments / school systems are toxic to the core, too many hurt wounded people pretending to do good work. It’s getting worse, an epidemic that nobody’s is talking about but it’s killing our spirits and is not worth it.

  • Tim Kuppler

    Excellent post. The drama triangle is alive and well in every organization with significant culture issues.

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