A while back, a new client came to me exasperated that her workplace had fallen into nonstop gossiping and backbiting – one drama after another. All the signs were there. She saw too many spontaneous closed-door meetings, a rumor mill in overdrive and endless reports of how this co-worker was working against that co-worker. Sound familiar?

My client wondered how things had gotten to this point? What was fueling all the negativity? More importantly, what was it going to take to put an end to this seemingly never-ending drama?

I have found that even the best workplaces go through periods of drama, but if leaders are willing to be honest about the negativity in their work environments and try some focused remedies, they can greatly minimize, if not eliminate the drama.

Workplace drama flares up for a variety of reason but they usually link back to the quality of an organization’s culture – the values, norms, and practices that drive how work gets done and how people behave in the process.

One of the essential jobs of an organization’s leader is to make sure the workplace has a healthy work culture. When leaders neglect the well-being of their cultures, negative behavior creeps in and drama gets a foothold. And we all know where that leads. Too many hours diverted away from important work for closed door complaining or gossip, plummeting employee morale and ultimately, poor performance and productivity.

Here are four tips for defusing or preventing workplace drama:

  • Healthy culture – Start a focused discussion with your executive team about the organization’s values. If you have a values statement, review the statement and honestly assess how well leadership is living up to the values. If your organization does not operate by an explicit set of values, get one in place, share it broadly throughout the organization and live up to it.
  • Open environment – Rumors start to fly and drama gets its start when leadership holds important information tightly and isn’t willing to share it broadly. Being as transparent as possible, particularly with key decisions or big changes under consideration, can head off drama.
  • Productive Conflict – Drama feeds on conflict that is poorly managed. But organizational conflict can be healthy when it becomes a source of learning. Two heated, competing points of view may provide for dramatic moments around the conference table. Yet out of that tension can often come a better, more encompassing solution. Effective leaders know how to respond to conflict in a way that is healthy and moves an organization forward through learning.
  • Acknowledging the charged issue – When leadership stays silent on difficult or charged issues, expect drama to fill in the silence. At minimum, direct and open acknowledgment of the issue cuts down on employee gossip or the “parking lot” conversations to vent frustration and resentment.

As my client experienced, working to end what sometimes feels like never-ending drama takes time, patience and most importantly, maintaining a strong, healthy culture.