Living One Drama-Free Week


When I first started studying philosophy, I believed that intelligence and emotional maturity went hand-in-hand. The smarter you were, I thought, the less you found yourself falling into drama.

Then I started learning about the actual lives of my philosophical heroes. It turns out that Rousseau gave away his newborn children to protect his “honor,” Machiavelli was a serial adulterer, and Thoreau tried to seduce Emerson’s wife when Emerson left America for a two-year trip to England.

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It’s not just philosophers who fall into drama.  Spend a week in any academic department, business, law firm, or organization and, beneath he surface of water-cooler small talk, you’ll find all kinds of drama.  And lots of it.

You’ll find gossip in the break room, turf wars, power struggles, and good old-fashioned cynicism.

The worst thing about all this drama is that it wastes time, energy, and money.  The anger, worry, and resentment of workplace drama stifles creativity and innovation.

My wife Kaley Warner Klemp and father-in-law Jim Warner have spent years helping organizations get out of drama.  Last week, they released a new book called The Drama-Free Office.  It’s a book about why we so easily slip into drama and how we can overcome it.

So for this week’s experiment, I propose a radical challenge:  can you go for an entire week without contributing to any form of workplace drama?

In the Drama-Free Office, Kaley and Jim give us a powerful tool for catching ourselves in moments of drama:  a list of the four most common “drama-types.”   As you read this list, think about your drama tendencies.   And as you go through this week, see if you can catch yourself anytime you see yourself slipping into drama.


1. The Cynic

Outwardly, a Cynic, claims she would love to “have it all work out,” but inwardly, she doubts that it will.  Even though she may not have the answer, she’s certain that everyone else’s ideas are wrong, and her job is to point this out.  Others are shortsighted, selfish, and ignorant, and she feels she’s “right” to draw attention to their flaws.  She also sees the shortcomings of potential solutions.  By pointing out all the ways current ideas fall short, maybe then they’ll “get it” and actually fix the problem. The Cynic doesn’t really want control, but she has disdain for whoever has it.


2. The Controller

A Controller wants work to be done efficiently and thoroughly.  He knows he has the best solutions and wants it done his way: the “right” way. Give him the ball, and he’ll score.  But he has to have the ball.  He finds others to blame for problems, since the problems wouldn’t exist if he had all the power.  Focused solely on his own concerns and grounded in a deep sense of entitlement, he is often oblivious to the needs of others.  Compelled to be the best, the Controller obsesses about winning.  He believes that others are constantly seeking the same, so he must overpower them to prevail.  Life is tough and only the strong survive.


3. The Complainer

Complainers believe that life is too hard and that everything is happening to them.  When trouble arises, they look for a bad guy to take the fall, because nothing can possibly be their fault.  A Complainer would love to have a happy ending to every problem but believes she’s powerless to alter the situation.  She is at the effect of other people and situations;  they have all the control.  Because she’s at the mercy of other people, the Complainer feels she is “right” in her suffering and deserves to be taken care of.


4. The Caretaker

Like most of us, a Caretaker wants to help others, feel appreciated, and live in a stable, calm environment. Unlike many of us, though, he becomes obsessed with these desires and will go to great lengths to satisfy them, including sacrificing himself. Caretakers believe the right thing to do is get along, provide for others, and keep the peace. Typically, Caretakers are highly productive associates in environments that require—and reward—long hours, no whining, and head-down work. Problems arise, however, when they take on more than they can do.

What’s your drama tendency?  Do you tend to be a hard-nosed controller or a caretaker who works tirelessly to keep the peace and satisfy others?  Or are you a mix of these types?

To find out more about your drama tendency, you can take a free online assessment by clicking here.  Knowing you drama type isn’t just valuable for office interactions.  It can help you avoid drama in whatever area of life it tends to arise.

Use these drama types this week to help catch yourself before you go into drama.  And if you’re interested in learning more about how to overcome workplace drama, check out Jim and Kaley’s book The Drama-Free Office. Or, you can find them on facebook and ask them about a situation you’d like to shift.


I’m curious to hear from you.  How does drama show up in your office?

Update: Video Short of 4 Forms of In-Law Drama (1.5 min)
posted July 28, 2011 by Nate

Nate and his actual father-in-law Jim demonstrate the four forms of drama from the Drama-Free Office.  The dilemma — who mows the lawn?


  1. Ken Wert says:

    Great post, Nate. Just came across your site last night and couldn’t get enough of it! I love your clarity of thought!

    I’m a high school teacher who tends to stay in the cubby-hole of my classroom, in part, to avoid all the petty drama undercurrent that sometimes rages like a riptide of anger and frustration and silly squabbles among staff. I suppose most of it seesm to be teachers vs. administration, but certianly not all of it.

    I get wind of the drama from time to time as students talk about what all-too-often becomes classroom topics of discussion in too many classes. Not only do I stay below the fray, I suppose I turn off my radar altogether.

    When a conversation turns to backbiting or complaining or to cycicism, I try to throw out a different way to think about things, but usually people are so invested in their positions that it has mittle impact.

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. Nate says:

    Hey Ken,

    Thanks so much for your comment! Glad to hear that you’re enjoying the site and that the ideas about drama were of service. As a teacher myself, I completely agree. I’m amazed at how much drama shows up both in and out of the classroom. It sounds like you’re doing your best to avoid contributing to the drama!


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