An essential ingredient for career success is being the least dramatic person around, the person who’s calm and rational, someone who doesn’t stir up drama or suck the energy out of the room.
You can, of course, find examples of successful people who are notorious troublemakers and have generally noxious personalities. But those folks succeed in spite, not because, the drama they create.
If you invent a product that millions of people crave, there’s a chance that employers will overlook a toxic personality. But most of us haven’t single-handedly created billion-dollar markets, so we need to avoid labels like difficult, dramatic, and negative.
Research shows that when new hires fail, 89% of the time, it’s because of their attitude, not a lack of technical skills. The majority of the time, good companies will only tolerate bad attitudes for so long.
Avoiding drama is a pretty good recipe for success, but we can actually take that one step further. Companies like drama-free people, but they absolutely love those who can squelch the drama around them. Few things make leaders happier than knowing they’ve got someone on their team capable of stopping drama in its tracks.
How can you ensure that you’re hiring someone capable of squelching workplace drama? Ask the interview question, “Could you tell me about a time you experienced workplace drama?”
Don’t add any words to the end of that question, like, “and how did you solve that?” As a recent report found, too many interview questions nudge candidates to share their successes, thus giving away the correct answer to the question. Don’t do that. Leave the question hanging and see if candidates squelched, ignored, or even worsened that workplace drama.
To see how this works in action, let’s look at two real-life responses to the question, “Could you tell me about a time you experienced workplace drama?”
Answer #1: “I worked with one person who was always hot-headed. She got short with everyone, including our biggest customer. She upset co-workers quickly. A few months ago, she had a blowup in front of the customer, and I told her she needed to let it go and to go cool off. I talked to her after the meeting and told her that she needed to get her act together. She didn’t listen to a word I said, so I reported her to our boss. That led to a mediation, but she still didn’t listen.”
Does this sound like someone who was able to calm the drama? The description of the colleague as “always hot-headed” and the recount of the situation using phrases like “she got short with everyone” and “she had a blowup” focuses heavily on the negative behavior of the co-worker without demonstrating an understanding or empathetic perspective. Moreover, the candidate’s solution to tell the coworker to “let it go and to go cool off” can come across as potentially confrontational rather than helpful.
Answer #2: “I was planning a major trade show, and I was talking to a colleague about resources we were going to need to pull from another event. She disagreed with something I said, and I clarified myself, thinking that all was well. Later that day, my manager came to me and said that this colleague was upset by the way I talked to her. I didn’t think that I had any kind of attitude, but from her perspective, I clearly did. I went up to her and sincerely apologized that I came off as rude and I told her that was not my intention. I didn’t realize that she was being held accountable for all of the resources on this other event, and she didn’t realize that the CEO had decided that it was OK to pull those resources. Because I started off with a sincere apology, she was much less defensive, and we got to a place where we could actually laugh about the crossed messages.”
This response is quite a bit different. By acknowledging the colleague’s perspective and promptly offering a sincere apology, this candidate shows a high level of empathy and the ability to squelch potential drama. This is a sign of maturity and indicates that the candidate values and respects their colleagues’ feelings and roles within the organization.
Additionally, the candidate’s approach to resolving the misunderstanding by clarifying the CEO’s decision and the accountability of resources displays their ability to navigate complex social dynamics within the workplace. The ability to de-escalate the situation and even reach a point of mutual humor demonstrates strong communication skills and a capacity to maintain a positive work environment despite initial difficulties.
An employee who can squelch workplace drama is a great find. And if you ask candidates to describe times when they experienced drama at work, they’ll generally reveal whether they’re the kind of person who reduces or increases the drama.