Is your 2024 resolution to avoid drama at work? Here are some tips to support!
A difference of opinion about stencils. An early childhood teacher who thinks it’s “not their job” to change nappies. An educational leader with a Masters degree who has never heard of Piaget… the sources of ‘workplace drama’ in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector are many and varied, but one thing is certain – ECEC workplaces, like all workplaces, can have their share of drama.
For those who are looking to establish a workplace culture free from drama, or to challenge some unhelpful but established behaviours already in place Tammy Perkins from Fast Company has some advice to support, which has been recontextualised to support the ECEC sector specifically.
What are the pitfalls of workplace drama?
Gathering in a group of more than one always opens the door to potential differences of opinion, personal biases, hidden agendas, insecurities or miscommunication. The opportunities for conflict to arise are many, and misinterpretation of others’ intentions is often a major cause of conflict.
While conflict is inevitable, it does not have to be destructive. Left unaddressed, however, workplace drama can lead to a drop in productivity, a drain on morale, and high staff turnover, which, in the present workforce shortage environment, has the potential to be a source of great concern for ECEC leaders.
The following strategies, drawn from the advice of Ms Perkins, a seasoned chief people officer with experience working with myriad Fortune 100 and private companies, may support ECEC services to avoid unnecessary conflicts and maintain a peaceful work environment.
Leaders, Ms Perkins says, should promote open communication, define the responsibilities of their team, set goals, establish performance expectations, and have clear outlines for what behaviours will and will not be tolerated.
Don’t accept all invitations
Just as we are unable to attend every social engagement or event we are invited to, we should also take the mindset that we do not have to attend every opportunity for conflict.
Not every difference of opinion or disagreement requires an immediate response, or even any response at all. Ms Perkins recommends that professionals prioritise their energy and direct it to matters that directly impact their work, or their personal values.
Trivial issues, like who said what about whom on Snapchat can be left to one side.
Lean in to EI
Emotional intelligence (EI) drives our behaviour, social skills and choices, and helps to understand our own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.
Being able to recognise our own feelings, to articulate them, and to own them can drive self awareness.
Using a phrase like ‘I feel’ versus ‘I am’ takes some of the heat out of the emotion and the moment. Thinking about this in an ECEC context framing a tough day as “I’m feeling overwhelmed with all the noise in this space. I’m going to ask to take my 10 minute break now” versus “I am SO over this job! It’s so noisy here. I can’t hear myself think!”
Being able to articulate, recognise and own our own emotions can help us to also support children, and our colleagues.
When you are able to recognise frustration in yourself, for example, you’re more easily able to read the physical and verbal cues of frustration in others, and support them.
Contribute, don’t critique
Are you familiar with the expression “be part of the solution, not part of the problem?”
When we criticise or vent to others about the people we work with, we discredit ourselves, and contribute to a culture of ‘workplace drama’.
Try to avoid getting emotionally involved in workplace situations, which could cloud your judgement. Aim to stay calm, composed and objective.
When conflicts do arise, try your best to understand the perspectives of everyone involved, to actively listen, and to be respectful when expressing your point of view.
If you have a concern with a member of the team, it is best to address it with that person directly, rather than gossiping about it to others, or taking it to social media for further discussion.
Own your mistakes
While we cannot control the things that happen around us, we can control the way we respond to them. If someone is frustrated, for example, they have the choice to act out by yelling or leaving, or they have the choice to self regulate, remain calm and work through the situation.
It is important to remember that everyone is at a different stage in the journey of self regulation, and that some people are still developing their skills in this space.
Being a supportive colleague to those who are still developing self regulation might look like taking them to one side and asking calmly and quietly if they are ok, or what they need to feel better supported in that moment.
Whole team professional development can also be supportive in creating a ‘culture of care’.
Be open to feedback
Feedback and opinions will vary from person to person. Just like our views on art, our views on workplace behaviour are subjective.
Some people may place a great emphasis on the presence or absence of homemade playdough, while for others it will be a passing thought at best.
Try to consider feedback and opinions as data. If there is one data point (person) in favour of something, and multiple data points against, it suggests that the ‘against’ data is probably more reliable.
It’s also important to focus on the logic of feedback, rather than the emotion.
For example, if you’re setting up a nature play space, and someone mentions that the logs stacked by the fence are a scaling risk for children, consider the logic (“this person has a strong lens for risk, and doesn’t want any children to abscond”) versus the emotion (“they hate my ideas and are always so resistant to change! Any time I try and do something new they find fault with it.”)
The old expression “what you feed grows” very much applies to ECEC workplace drama.
When it is focussed on, stress can become amplified and distracting. When we bring our own personal sources of stress and discomfort to a stressful working environment, we are experiencing stress on all fronts, which makes it challenging to support children and families.
Embracing a positive outlook – even toward those colleagues with whom you do not feel a strong sense of trust and admiration – can foster calm behaviour, which in turn improves interactions, productivity and motivation.
By focusing on solutions instead of dwelling on problems, Ms Perkins says, you can inspire those around you to do the same.
“Doing so requires effort, but the results are impactful. In my experience, employees will deliver results beyond expectation when there is encouragement and appreciation for accomplishments,” she shared.
To read this article in its original form, please see here.
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