The “meet for a coffee” Slack message. The closed-door office convos. The feeling you get when a conversation stops abruptly when you walk toward two coworkers. Love it or hate it, office drama often gives your day a surge of adrenaline a spreadsheet just doesn’t — not to mention an ongoing soap opera to talk about with your coworkers and your IRL friends. After all, if you work full time, you likely spend more time face to face with this collection of random people curated by HR than you do with your friends, fam, or even your BF or GF. There’s bound to be issues. And issues are always interesting.
And they aren’t going away anytime soon. A study published in the The Journal of Applied Psychology found that incivility in the workplace — rude comments, gossip, and cutting down ideas in front of others — has been getting worse over the last decade. Think you escape the dramz by working remotely? Not exactly. According to a 2017 survey of 1,153 workers — roughly half remote and half in the office — 41 percent of remote workers thought they were being bad mouthed by coworkers, compared to about 31 percent of onsite employees.
So how can you deal? You don’t want the drama to drag you down or suck you in. Luckily, science has strategies to help you make the most of every bizarre work situation and come out on top. The next time your coworker’s Chainsmokers playlist is making you cray, try these six brilliant (and science-backed!) strategies.
The situation: You’re gunning for a new gig, and need your cubemate to proof your resume or look at your interview outfit choice.
Your move: Find an outside opinion, ASAP. According to research from Washington University in St Louis, people underestimate their colleagues’ competitiveness. You may think you and your coworker are in the trenches together, but chances are they’ve also seen that Indeed ad, and may have sneakily printed their resume on the communal office printer, too.
The situation: You’re the go-to person in your office when it comes to booking conference rooms, knowing info about the company and why your boss may be in a bad mood today, and providing intel on which lunch spots have the best deal every day of the week.
Your move: You may be in a power position, but being the office mom or dad can have serious repercussions that can tank your happiness — and may make you into the office monster. A study from Michigan State University found that helping coworkers can gradually make you feel depleted, exhausted, and less on track with your own goals. This may be because you’re feeling burned out, or feel like you’re doing all the work, while your coworkers are getting all the rewards. So do your own stuff, and suggest your coworkers ask someone else to do whatever they need done. To prove it’s not personal, plan a happy hour or group lunch, which is something you can actually enjoy and get something out of, too.
The situation: You’ve got a weirdo coworker who’s impolite, rude, drinks water too loudly — and brings down every single All-Hands meeting.
Your move: Make a snarky comment to another coworker when you’re absolutely sure that the offending person isn’t in earshot. While you should keep any work gossip conversations IRL, off Slack or office email, and out of the office breakroom, it turns out that banding together against one absurd coworker can make you closer to your colleagues. “Having somebody who is really difficult can actually be good for the workplace,” said Jo-Ellen Pozner, PhD, a professor at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business, whose research focuses on leadership and organizational behavior. “If everyone has an issue with one person, or has one annoying project or rule to rally against, it can become the basis of social bonding for the rest of the group.” Again, use your judgment, but don’t be afraid to call out crazy when you see it.
The situation: You’ve got a new coworker who’s a total kiss-up — and your boss can’t get enough of her early deadlines, prompt email return, and cheerful attitude during every early-morning meeting. You feel like this person is edging you out of your role, and you’re mad.
Your move: Invite this person to lunch. And not to poison her food or pull a Mean Girls and offer a Kalteen bar. Turns out, this person may be your path to a promotion. A recent study from the University of York in England found that just being in close proximity to a high performing coworker can make you do your best, too. Think of it as an example of the “shine theory” playing out: When you see other people killing it, it can inspire you to want to kill it, too.
The situation: Your coworker hates her boss. Hates her boss. Hates her boss so much she tells you at least three times a day.
Your move: You may feel like it’s your job to make her feel better, but it’s not. Your job is, to, well, do your job. Besides, whatever you say may not have that much of an effect on her. A 2017 study from Iowa State University discovered that most advice people received about workplace bullying — find a new job; talk to HR — isn’t actually helpful to the person receiving the advice. They likely know what they “should” do, but they may just want to vent and feel like someone is listening who cares. But even if you’re trying to be sympathetic, that negativity can drive down your attitude. Send her a cat meme, buy her a latte, tell her you love her, but make it clear you can’t indulge in her misery.
The situation: You’re miserable at work. You’ve got a bunch of new team members, and you’re tempted to spill the fact that those free office snacks are served alongside a whole lot of dysfunction.
Your move: Keep it on the DL. In fact, as weird as your office dynamics may be, it can be smart to use a new people as an opportunity to switch up your office outlook. Try to see the good side of working in the office (free snacks!) and keep the convo positive with your new coworker. Here’s why: Not only is a crappy job better than no crappy job, but being positive can boost general office morale — and may make your new coworkers more likely to recognize the positive in their new environment. And be honest, do you really feel like complaining is making you feel better?