Office drama. I can hear the sighs now. Leaders despise it. Sometimes we feel more like babysitters or parents of teenagers more than we feel like fearless leaders of unconquerable teams. All of the he-said, she-said is draining, unproductive and quite childish.

Years ago I had a boss share some insight that has forever changed how I see and react to office drama. Especially the kind of drama that stems from unmet expectations. If you think about it, unmet expectations are the agents of most failed relationships.

I will share that advice with you in a moment. Here is a hint, it is a question we should ask ourselves.

How many times have you heard something to the effect of…”they were not supposed to…”, “he is overstepping his bounds when he does…”, or “I can’t believe she did…”. Statements like this are usually surfaced when workloads are increased, someone has been ‘thrown under the bus’, or life in general has been made more difficult.

Usually when we pose questions that call into question a persons rational thinking behind a decision or action, we are really making a judgement of character and competence. We are downgrading their ability to be trusted.

It’s pretty harsh when you think about it.

Just last night my brother-in-law was ranting about the person who creates the schedules at the hospital where he works. He is a CNA. His normal schedule was switched around due to the holiday weekend. He was pretty upset at this person because it threw off plans he had made. He was using words like, idiot, moron, and stupid to describe this person. That is when I popped one of my favorite questions.

“Do you think it was her intention to mess up your schedule?” He paused and answered no – that it was probably a result of a lot of schedule requests from others, because of the holidays, that made the schedule different than he expected.

The question, Do you think that was the persons intention, changes the whole dynamic of a conversation. Once we reveal true intentions behind misfortunate consequences of poor decisions (or the appearance of one) we can move the topic away from the drama and transition it to a solution the offended person can resolve (usually by themselves), or eliminate the conversation completely.

We all make mistakes. We all do something that is not ideal. Some do more so than others. But none of us are immune to imperfection. Unfortunately this means the people we work with are subject to imperfection as well. Mistakes, errors, learning experiences all usually mean that someone else probably has more work to do or has been inconvenienced in one way or the other.

When we are the inconvenienced person the best question to ask will reveal a persons intent (or what it isn’t.) We will quickly ground ourselves, (or a brother in-law, employee, co-worker etc) eliminate the drama, eliminate personal feelings and move on do being productive.