I have to start out with a disclaimer – I’ve never actually watched a reality show.
But I have observed them.
And I’ve observed them enough to notice a few basic things going on in all of ‘em. They are:
- The battle for the role of drama queen
- Steadily escalating conflict (even if it has to be engineered)
- An opportunity for exhibitionists to do what they do
- The unexpected ambush
- Eating bugs
How many of these reality show basics do you deal with at your job?
The Reigning Drama Queen – I think most work places have one. The position is hardly awarded on the basis of gender, and it’s secured by emphasizing the most dire and disastrous possibilities, with which the Queen is always intimately involved. No one can come down with a stomach flu without the Queen talking colostomies. The Drama Queen might be a bit overwrought, but she or he is usually harmless – unless you don’t pay enough attention. The challenge is to acknowledge without engaging.
Steadily Escalating Conflict – Not all office battles are caused by disagreements over policy, tough cost-cutting choices or competing visions. Sometimes I think they erupt because people are bored, or just want an excuse to wrangle and release hostility. If you see someone turning a tussle over Xeroxing into the invasion of Poland, do what you can to focus on the specifics of the situation and calm things down. Otherwise, prepare yourself for…
The Exhibitionist’s Release – Technically, I guess anyone on a reality show is an exhibitionist, unless there’s some other diagnosis they could claim. However, there are usually a few who seem to seek out situations in which they can explode. Although people are usually more circumspect at work, there are still plenty of occasions when exhibitionists find room to let it all hang out. And that’s generally not good for anyone. Try to create and sustain a work atmosphere in which people can be themselves – but not all of themselves.
The Unexpected Ambush – In reality shows, an ambush can be fun and well intentioned, if a little off-putting, like when someone is grabbed and forced to get some fashion sense. At work, sometimes people schedule meetings for a whole office, when their real intention is just to get one person to do one thing, like alter their ordering habits. If you’re party to such a thing, try to make sure the subject doesn’t feel unfairly singled out. If it happens to you, be glad they’re not going through your closet.
And, lastly, eating bugs – Ever had the last swig of coffee when the pot should have been turned off hours ago? Enough said.
What stock characters and situations have you seen around your office?
by Danielle Dresden