Workplace Melodrama--A Flair For The Dramatic

A flair for the dramatic is a theatrical term used to describe an actress or actor who has a talent for melodrama, characterized by intensely enacted interpersonal conflict and exaggerated emotions. The central figure in a melodrama is the hero, who spins his tale or portrays the justice of his cause in a positive light. Counterparts include the villain and the fool who are ridiculed and portrayed negatively.

Remember Aesop's Fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf? The story goes like this. A shepherd boy (self-styled hero) who was responsible for a flock of sheep had a habit of bringing out the villagers by screaming, Wolf! Wolf! When the villagers (fools according to the shepherd boy) came to help him, he would laugh at them and display a just-kidding attitude. The boy repeated his prank three or four times.

Unfortunately, one day the wolf (the villain) came and when the shepherd boy screamed in his usual melodramatic fashion that the wolf was killing the sheep, none of the villagers paid any attention to his cries. As a result the entire flock was destroyed.

One of the things that make Aesop's Fables so unique is that there is always a moral to the story. The moral here is that exaggeration (a form of melodrama) leads to lying, and if one exaggerates or lies too much, no one will believe it even when the person speaks the truth.

Workplace Melodrama

In the workplace, melodrama happens when a minor concern or conflict is embroidered and overstated in such a way that it becomes larger-than-life and blown way out of proportion to the original issue.

Many people often complain about the level of melodrama in their offices. They describe it as follows:

  • Incessant whining about things outside the average worker's ability to influence or change.
  • Larger-than-life scenes complete with tears, outbursts and whatever else that will draw attention to the person who is acting-out the part of the hero.
  • The depiction of a person or group (usually management) as the villain or fool.
  • Making everything a big deal (hyperventilation) to the point of exhaustion. Everything is elevated to crisis proportions.
  • The emergence of a drama king or queen who collects followers with similar proclivities and initially holds court to entertain, but ends in aggravating or alienating the very people he or she needs to impress.

Handling Office Melodrama ? The M.O.D.E.L. Method

  • Model. When faced with conflict, disagreements or challenges, model the desired non-melodramatic behavior by balancing your reactions and emotions instead of behaving, speaking or acting in a way that is more dramatic, shocking, or highly emotional than the situation demands (mirroring).
  • Object to melodramatic activity that slanders or is hurtful to another co-worker. Refrain from participating in gossip and rumor-mongering.
  • Decide against becoming a drama king or queen yourself or a member of the royal court! There are always two sides to every story. Wisdom would suggest that you not pre-judge or second-guess; instead, try giving the benefit-of-the-doubt.
  • Engage. Be sensitive to ways you may be able to help the drama king or queen put a filter on his or her emotions and reduce the impact on other co-workers.
  • Calmly Listen to and watch the dramatic tale unfold instead of feeding the fire by overreacting. Remind yourself to take it all with a grain of salt, since drama kings and queens like to play to an audience.
  • Having a flair for the dramatic is not always a bad thing. Sharing funny stories or entertaining co-workers with the antics of children or pets can relieve stress and promote stronger interpersonal relationships; but, it is best to steer clear of office melodrama and workplace drama kings and queens who like to cry wolf!

    Althea DeBrule, entrepreneur and seasoned human resources executive, has focused for more than 30 years on helping people achieve their career goals. Creator of The Extreme-Career-Makeover? and a founding partner of RADSGroup Organizational Consultants, she is recognized for her bottom line and practical application of career development and management strategies in a way that penetrates hearts and compels action. She speaks and teaches with inspired talent, humor and contagious zeal at management conferences and leadership retreats nationwide, and has been featured in CFO Magazine, Strategy@Work, Human Resource Executive Magazine. Althea is the author of Bosses & Orchards, a compelling and candid book about how to make your work relationship with your boss succeed. To discover how you can take your career to a new level, visit

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