The following is an excerpt of an interview with executive educator, consultant, and international speaker Marlene Chism. She is also the author of Stop Workplace Drama and No-Drama Leadership. She provides us with some great knowledge on her expertise of workplace drama.

The biggest barrier that we as individuals or as leaders can encounter is the barrier of judging our self. – Marlene Chism


Workplace Drama…What is it? 

When I first started doing my work, I would get all kinds of answers as to what workplace drama is. And so I created my own definition.  When I would get out there and start trying to promote a no-drama workplace, people would say, “Well, we have a lot of women because we’re a healthcare practice therefore we have a lot of drama.”  And I jokingly said my next book is going to be called “Men Have Drama, Too” because just look at politics and sports where there’s lots of men, we see a lot of different high powered kind of drama.

My favorite answer was, “Well, I don’t do drama.”  Or, “I’m completely drama free.”  And that’s simply not really possible because we’re all human beings living this experience out so we’re bound to have some drama.

My thought was that people were defining it differently from it being queen bees, power struggles, or over exaggeration. So my definition really encompasses everything that could be drama. The definition I use is that drama is any obstacle to your peace or your prosperity. And the visual that I use whenever I’m in a workshop or speaking is there’s a little guy in a rowboat at the bottom left, there’s an island at the top right.  The island has the treasure chest that equals peace and prosperity.  We are always trying to get to the island either by ourselves or with our team and then the obstacle is the shark, it’s the barrier, it’s the very thing that keeps us from getting there.

So in that definition, for example, Uber is going through a lot of drama right now because of all the news that they’re giving, lack of peace and prosperity and it’s due to some of the cultural issues.

That’s my definition: any obstacle to your peace or your prosperity.

What Trends Do You See With Workplace Drama?

Distraction is a big one. We’re all human beings with brains and emotions. So if you think about the worry that’s going on in your mind about politics, about regulation or no regulation, if you’re on the news like Uber and you’re getting this kind of exposure that you don’t want, that takes up residence in your head, in your mind and it affects your leadership effectiveness.  That becomes a drama until you make peace with it and know what to do. Once you understand that it’s not really about the situation, it’s about how it affects you and your leadership effectiveness, your productivity, and your focus, then you can start working on a solution to the problem.

In fact, whenever I’m working with leaders one on one, I am sharing with them how to not get distracted in a conversation. For example, you’re trying to coach but the employee goes off on a distraction such as well, that’s not fair or let me tell you what else happened last week.  As leaders, our job is to stay focused and align. And so, the same thing happens with entrepreneurs, they start going for a goal but then there’s this distraction, there’s all the opportunities and before long we lose clarity and then that’s when you get that barrier, that shark. As an entrepreneur, as an executive, any obstacle or any distraction is going to take you off focus.

How Do We Stay Drama Free?

I call my method the Language of the Island and it sounds very cartoonish, but with adult learning theory, we learn better in pictures and in visuals.  When we start taking it on from this perspective and from this language, you can immediately kind of see oh, I’m hitting a block, oh, I’m going in circles, we’re beating each other with the oars, there’s a leak in the boat.  So when we start using that language, it depersonalizes it because the biggest barrier that we as individuals or as leaders can encounter is the barrier of judging our self. Once you start going down that black hole, oh, I’m terrible, I’m a bad leader, oh my God I’ve made so many mistakes, what’s going to happen—the mind has this way of creating even more drama so if you can visualize the shark, the distraction, or whatever the issue may be and depersonalize it to know that you’re a good human being with good intentions, it helps you to move forward faster instead of making the drama bigger.


Click here to listen to the full interview with Marlene Chism

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