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Ditch the Workplace Drama: A Q&A with Cy Wakeman

Real engagement requires accountability.


August CoverCy Wakeman doesn’t have time for drama. The best-selling author, keynote speaker and business consultant is too busy waking up management and employees to the importance of accountability to worker engagement and performance. She has spent more than 20 years consulting with large companies and sharing the lessons of reality-based leadership through books, articles, blogs and speeches.

Wakeman’s latest New York Times best-seller, The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace: Know What Boosts Your value, Kills Your Chances, and Will Make You Happier (Jossey-Bass, 2013), teaches employees how to calculate and increase their true value to their organization and how to be happy at work.

What does it mean to be “reality-based”?

Being reality-based is all about ditching the drama, because most of the drama in our lives has nothing to do with reality. It’s the story we make up about reality. For instance, if my boss asks me a question, I might think, “He’s micromanaging me, checking up on me.” The reality is that my boss asked me a question. The rest is a story I made up.

The average person spends two hours a day in drama. That is a ton of emotional waste. When people let go of their drama, they are able to use those two hours a day for productivity, and they are happier because their morale is not affected by the stories they make up about their circumstances.

How can employees become more reality-based?

Quit believing everything you think. Step back and question it. When you run into a problem at work, don’t assume your co-workers are incompetent or undermining you. Ask: “What do I know for sure?” What’s left are the facts. Then ask “What could I do to add value?” Look for ways to solve the problem and contribute. That way, you eliminate all of the energy that goes into drama.

What is the “true value” equation?

Current Performance + Future Potential - Emotional Expensiveness = True value. We measure how people perform today, but we need to consider whether that performance is sustainable. The most valuable employees think about how to add value in the future. I may be performing today, but if I am not developing my skills enough to stay up-to-date, my performance is not sustainable and my value is lower. Then consider the total cost of performance—the hassle factor. If I am performing but it’s a big hassle every time you ask me to do something, I am less valuable than others who lack drama.

What makes an employee “emotionally expensive”?

Part of it involves the hassle factor. Part of it is believing your engagement depends on your circumstances, believing your boss is responsible for your happiness. That’s not the case. Happiness is a choice. Engagement is a choice. Your accountability, not your circumstances, determines your happiness. The future belongs to the people who can be flexible and serve in a variety of places with low drama, rather than to the technical guru who is a drama king.

How can employees increase their future potential?

The easiest way to keep up with the times is to say “yes” to what is next. Change is only hard for the unready. Be willing to take on new work. Try new things. Surround yourself with people who are also progressing. Read. Stay on top of your skills. If you always say “yes” to what is next, you will experience incremental progress.

What can HR do to help employees become more reality-based?

HR professionals need to help people understand their true performance. Are they holding people accountable for their own professional growth? Or are they enabling emotional expensiveness? Let people know that simply telling HR about a problem isn’t helpful; taking action to solve it is. Teach employees to be the change they wish to see.

Kathryn Tyler is a freelance writer and former HR generalist and trainer in Wixom, Mich.


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