workplace_drama

Why Do Administrative Teams Have So Much Drama?

On a recent webinar, Joan noticed a question that caught her attention: Why do so many administrative teams have drama?

She asked me to weigh in on this topic and I jumped at the opportunity.

The question of why is interesting, and I’ve found there are several reasons for workplace drama. But first, let’s talk about what that word really means.

In real terms, “drama” usually refers to interpersonal conflicts—people aren’t getting along, and it’s typically attached to petty, non-substantive reasons.

On any administrative team, you’re likely to find a wide variety of personalities. When faced with any group of people with whom you have to work collaboratively, and when placed in an environment with those people for 40 hours a week or more, it’s not surprising that drama unfolds.

Below, I’ve listed the 5 most common reasons I’ve seen for drama amongst administrative teams, along with some recommended solutions.

1. Turf Wars
This kind of drama centers around job duties. In some cases, I’ve seen assistants create tension because they’re trying too hard to protect their “territory” or intruding on the territory of others. This makes teammates feel undermined, stepped on, and at times, jealous.

In other situations, I’ve seen team members who don’t hold up their end of things, causing their colleagues to feel frustrated and put-upon as they struggle to fill in the gaps.

Solution: Work with others on your team to clarify roles and define individual expectations. Remember that you’re all in this together. In order for you to “win,” you don’t have to make others “lose.” Everyone needs to understand that, by working together, you’re all better off.

2. Gossip
I find that gossip usually focuses on other people’s intentions, motives, hidden agendas, or secret activities. When we speak about others behind their backs, we tend to speculate. We take our past bad experiences with people out on others and allow our inner-child to vent our frustrations in very unproductive, toxic ways.

Solution: Don’t project past experiences onto others; assume everyone has the best intentions. When things go wrong, deal with them directly and at face value. Don’t say something about anyone that you wouldn’t be willing to say directly to them.

3. Choosing Sides
As humans, we all crave community, and nothing brings people together like a common enemy. All too often, I’ve seen entire admin teams destroyed because of interpersonal conflicts that really exist between two individuals. The group devolves into an “us versus them” mentality, and before long, the workplace feels like a high school lunchroom.

Solution: Don’t get involved in other people’s drama. Maintain your relationships with all by being a neutral party. Stay focused on the best interests of the team.

4. Failure to Address Issues
When real, substantive disagreements occur, it’s easy to avoid confrontation and stifle your feelings. However, in my experience, this often leads to passive aggressive behavior. Most people are much more comfortable passively showing their emotions in subtle ways, but it doesn’t go unnoticed. Others see the behavior and feel the tension.

Solution: Learn how to communicate your perspective in a way that is professional and respectful. Turn conflicts into constructive discussions that push the team forward. Avoiding the problems won’t make them go away.

5. Failure to Adapt
Finally, the biggest problem I see that creates drama, is a simple failure to adapt to the quirks of others. We are all human. That means we’re inherently flawed, but also innately valuable. On any team, you will find a variety of personalities, many of which you would likely not choose to spend time with in your personal life. That’s okay; you don’t have to! But you do have to work on a team with these people.

Solution: Respect and accept your fellow teammates, warts and all. No one is perfect. Be willing to adapt your own preferences and natural inclinations for the good of the group. Let minor irritations go and compromise when necessary.

I’m not a big fan of the word “drama” when it comes to describing workplace dynamics. But I suppose it’s an accurate descriptor in some cases.

If your administrative team is experiencing drama, consider sharing these techniques in an educational setting. Do your part and remember: This is the workplace. It’s about getting a job done. We all experienced enough drama in our teenage years—and no one wants to relive those days!


Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach and corporate trainer who believes that work can be a nourishing, enriching part of the life experience. Her website, EatYourCareer.com, is devoted to that mission. You’re invited to join the FREE Eat Your Career Resource Library where you’ll gain immediate access to dozens of tools to advance your professional skills and achieve career fulfillment.

Chrissy also has an amazing book called The Proactive Professional and some incredible ebooks and guides.

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45 thoughts on “Why Do Administrative Teams Have So Much Drama?”

  1. I really enjoyed this article and found it relevant in my workplace. I’m on a team of 4 admins, one of whom is the SAA, and the main reason for drama in our office is most likely Turf Wars. One of our AAs repeatedly does not pull her own weight and often when she is asked to complete a task, she routinely says she doesn’t have time to do it or simply says no, and the tasks ends up being delegated to another AA, which causes tension in the office. When the other AA or I mention this to the SAA or administration, it sounds like we are complaining b/c the workload is unequal due to the one AA failing to perform. It definitely adds stress to the office b/c many other co-workers do recognize it, but administration is reluctant to set expectations and is afraid of the push-back. I’ve worked on learning to adjust to different work personalities, but in this case, I have discovered first-hand that although this individual is extremely competent, she is merely doing the minimum and has her hand-held along the way many times; she does not take ownership in her responsibilities and is often not held accountable for her actions or lack thereof. That being said, it does fall on the part of the supervisor to set expectations, clarify what is needed, and make sure all of us follow-through on requests.

  2. Great article. In my experiences, the drama is usually either eliminated/created/exacerbated by senior leadership as well.

  3. Drama and conflicts can really undermine the teamwork atmosphere; it is best to communicate both appropriately and concisely to avoid any issues and to ensure everyone hears the same message. Completely agree that avoiding drama as much as we can including starting or participating in it, thanks!

  4. Linda A. Orlando, CAP

    Thank you for sharing Chrissy. One of the biggest “office dramas” I have encountered is gossiping.

  5. The two issues that cause drama in my office are the failure to adapt and the failure to address issues. These are the fault of both staff and management. I believe we need to hold some type of training in our office to help remedy this situation otherwise, the issues and constant turnover will continue.

  6. Chrissy, I just LOVE the way you break this out into scenarios followed by actionable advice. Your advice in #5 reminds me of some advice from #AdminConf last year: “What if we just let it go?” So often, we create our own drama, and your advice for avoiding that trap is sound!

  7. I really like this fresh perspective. Sometimes you get stuck in the middle. It’s good to continue to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and to keep short accounts:)

    Thank you for the good read!

  8. Chandra Johnson

    The one I’ve experienced the most has been Turf Wars. To me it’s completely unnecessary. I am a person who believes in sharing knowledge and I have no problem rolling up my sleeves to help. Great article.

  9. The advice to never say anything about someone unless you would say it to their face applies to life in general – not just the workplace!

  10. Thank you for providing these insightful solutions to deal with drama at the office. At times we can get caught up in our feelings and forget that we are adults. After experiencing a few seasons of this, I have resolved to be intentional in managing myself and the results have been great. I’m adding these to my Self-Management program!

  11. The Turfwars is the most difficult for me right now. Currently, My CFO asks me directly to handle things that his EA doesn’t have the skills to do and it continues to create a small amount of tension. I have tried to speak with her about it a couple times, however, it didn’t go well so I have stopped that. It is a difficult trail to navigate at times.

    1. Please don’t be offended by my comment, but I believe your CFO should address that situation. Open and honest communication with his admin will bridge the gap. Right now she probably doesn’t understand what’s going on or who she can trust. Silence on the CFO part doesn’t seem to be helping.

  12. I really enjoyed this article. I worked in an office once years ago with all of these issues. It was so tiring and discouraging. The only way the problems were solved was everyone was transferred out except me!

  13. Great article. Thank you for the solutions! I will try to put these into practice. We have a lot of drama in our office. One reason is because the hierarchy won’t address issues or makes light of them.

    1. I too very much appreciated the article, but also appreciated Cheryl’s comments. Hierarchy has to be aware of what is happening. Ours seems to make excuses for one member who does not pull her weight, which adds pressure on the others and builds resentment.

  14. Very good article, Chrissy. With all the work that needs to be done, who has time for the drama. We have to some how try to bring the person(s) along so we can be productive and isn’t it really all about being an effective team? I want people to look at our team and be very proud of our focus.

  15. Good article, especially # 5. With so many different personalities in the work place we need to all get along.

  16. Sharon Chaplain

    Unfortunately, many a good employee is lost due to office drama. I recently left a large corporation because the director actually instigated the office drama. There’s drama where I’m at now, of course, but the employees are a bit more spread out and I told them up front in the interview that “I’m not here to do anything but work”, and if they didn’t like that attitude, then they didn’t have to hire me. Fortunately, they did like that, and they did hire me. My whole demeanor has changed from my last position, and I’m known as easy-going, calm and quiet.

  17. Always a timely topic that inevitably takes me by surprise when transitioning to a new team or organization. The solutions offered above are very helpful and to the extent possible I avoid drama or those people that invite drama into their lives. Keep it professional and don’t take anything personal:)

  18. Chrissy, Thank you! I like how you laid all out and how to fix it. We don’t have any Admin Teams in my office. However, we still have drama and all of your suggestions would apply.

  19. Great article. Another reason admins have conflicts is that most of us are women & we take things so personally!

  20. Thank you for listing the solutions to some of the common reasons for drama in admin teams. I have been an assistant for 27 years and have never really had to work on an admin team. It has usually only been myself, and one other admin who had to work together, and fortunately we usually worked well together. I did however, recently experience an issue with another EA who got upset because she thought I was outright ignoring her direction and just doing what I wanted to. She did the right thing and approached me about it instead of stewing about it. I was shocked when she told me how she felt. I had just started at this place of employment and was just doing what I could to keep my head above water. What she had thought was my ignoring her, was not that at all. I thanked her for coming to me and we were able to clear the air. I strongly recommend going directly to anyone who you have an issue with and speaking to them professionally about it. Try not to take things personally because many times it’s not even about you, or even intentional. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt the first time. If it doesn’t correct itself after that, then you may need to go a step further and involve supervisors.

  21. I had been in situation where the drama was so acute and toxic, I had actually left the job. When asked why, and they were told of the situation, they acted surprise. It was not until they realized that one specific person was to blame for all “drama” that they finally took action. Several of the team members brought a class action suite against this person. The company also realized that they could be next. This was not a healthy environment for anyone. Needless to say, the company no longer is in business. I took away from that experience what I never wanted to go thru again. Leave the drama at home or outside the company. There is no room in the work place for it. Are we not adults? Let the kids have it. I am so done with dramatic people. If I want drama, I will go to the movies, that is what they get paid for.

  22. Great article! I wonder if you have any scripts for staying out of drama? For instance, I have a coworker who comes into my office every morning with some kind of drama. She haaaates another coworker, whom I actually get along well with, and she chooses me to vent to even though she knows I like this other coworker. I’ve tried giving the complaining coworker perspective but it hasn’t worked, so I want to shut it down at this point. Any wording I could use?

  23. Great article. Several years ago, along with my peer group, we completed a personality test and shared the results. Specific examples were provided and discussed on how each one of us would go about working on a task. The discussion was extremely helpful to me in understanding just how differently people work and embraced those differences (okay, maybe I was just more tolerant). I think it definitely improved the work group relationships overall. To this day I try to keep things in perspective. When I start a new working relationship and remember we all work differently and we can learn from each other. Thanks for the good read!

  24. Jean Weaver, CAP-OM

    Hear, Hear! Well said! I’d like to add a rule for all admin teams — do NOT waste any energy on negative things.

  25. Katherine Morgan

    Great article! I can boil it down even further to two basic concepts for me: fear and insecurity. I find I act badly when there is truth in a criticism or when I’ve made a mistake. And the more truth there is, the more impact it has. It’s human nature. Now that I’m aware of this, I am now able to act better. As I age I’m more accepting of my mistakes as learning opportunities, and I’m less critical, more confident, and more open. We are all harder on ourselves than anyone else. If we try to view ourselves the way others do, we will see we are so much better than we thought!
    Thanks to Joan & the team at Office Dynamics I have learned and grown so much, not just as an administrative professional, but also as a person. My boundaries have been stretched to reach my dreams and goals. I hope we can all continue to learn, stretch, grow and achieve our dreams.

  26. Total truth! When you are working with others, you have to remember, you must build a good working relationship with your team. And use caution… it doesn’t take much for you to become the problem in the group dynamic!

  27. This article hit home. We have 13 women and 5 men in the work place. Many times it seems it is one department against the other. We have gotten along better in recent months, but now it seems the newer employees are pushing the limits, spending lots of time chit chatting instead of working, but it is hard to say anything to the supervisors because they are close friends of the new staff. Many times I find myself biting my tongue and just trying to let it roll off, though not easy most of the time.

  28. This is so good. Love this line: “Respect and accept your fellow teammates, warts and all. No one is perfect. Be willing to adapt your own preferences and natural inclinations for the good of the group. Let minor irritations go and compromise when necessary.”

    Major on the major and minor on the minor – we are here to serve each other.. as a team. I am not a “boss” I am a team member.

  29. I feel so blessed that I don’t have to address issues like this in my workplace. Great advice Chrissy!

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