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Is Your Job a Soap Opera?

How to handle five common workplace dramas and come out on top.

| March 19th, 2014
Is Your Job a Soap Opera

After a grueling selection process involving jockeying competition for a position at your company and negotiating a reward (aka salary talk), you’re sent into an unfamiliar place filled with people you’ve likely never met before but are now about to spend more time with than any member of your immediate family. Some of those people will be eliminated, while others will skyrocket through the leadership ranks, eventually telling you what to do.

Put that way, modern work life sounds a lot like “The Hunger Games,” doesn’t it? Which may be why so many everyday office dramas can seem larger than life, which can affect your well-being and your reputation to boot.

Not getting sucked into workplace drama is no easy task. So we spoke to career experts for how to deftly navigate five common drama-filled scenarios, save your sanity, stay on your manager’s good side and keep the odds in your favor in the office.

Scenario #1: You’ve got a co-worker who leaves you off important memos “by accident.” You’re not sure, but you think she’s sabotaging you.
It’s tempting to give her a taste of her own medicine by “forgetting” to let her know about a meeting time change, but that’ll only escalate the situation, warns Alison Green, career expert and founder of the career resource blog AskaManager.org. The next time it happens, calmly and directly ask the co-worker what happened. Chances are, being called out will let her know you won’t stand for her tricks. Also, take an honest assessment of your own behavior to make sure you aren’t helping to fuel the fire. You can also try being friendly and give your office enemy a no-strings-attached compliment for a job well done, which can help diffuse tension between you and someone who wants your job. And a string of no-fault behavior on your end will get noticed by the people who matter. “This sounds Pollyannaish, but I’ve seen it play out countless times, that when everyone knows you’re low drama and easy to work with, any negative feedback will reflect badly on the trash talker and not on you,” says Green. If she continues with her bad behavior, then you need to loop in your manager. “As a manager, I’d like to know if something like this was going on,” explains Green. 

Scenario #2: You’ve got a new boss—and rumors are flying that layoffs are coming.
Bad news: They might be. But even so, resist the urge to gossip about the possibility with members of the old guard, warns Green. “So often when a new manager comes in, the existing teams will be resistant—even unconsciously—to her vision or way of doing things,” she explains. By going against that grain and showing enthusiasm for the new boss’s plans, you’re putting yourself in a better position than you would have otherwise. As a backup measure, make sure your resume—both online and on paper—is up to date and start networking with contacts at other companies you’d be interested in to keep your options open.

Scenario #3: Your supervisor definitely has a star on her team—and it’s not you.
When your boss lavishes projects and praise on one particular person, your instinct is likely to want to do something to stand out. But instead of trying to prove why you should be getting the opportunities she’s giving to your co-worker, your best bet is to redirect your focus into how you could make your manager’s life easier. “Managers are impressed by employees who are ahead of the game,” says Heather Huhman, career and workplace expert and founder of ComeRecommended.com, a content marketing and digital public relations consultancy firm. Instead of waiting for projects to be doled out, do initial research on a choice assignment and present your findings to your boss in a memo. By keeping the focus on your own contributions and not getting involved in an imaginary competition with your co-worker, you have the best chance to showcase the unique talents you bring to the table.

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