David Stollman


It is strange that a show like Saturday Night Live’s success comes from removing “drama,” but it’s true! To understand why, let’s first talk about belonging, psychological safety and authenticity.

Belonging. My friends Gentry and Josh over at Dyad Strategies told me a lot about belonging that I already knew. Good research can uncover ideas that make you say, “duh,” because common sense helps us come to some conclusions naturally. Sometimes, it makes so much sense, that on face value, it’s easy to accept. The feeling of belonging matters. In fact, a member’s depth of feeling that they belong to an organization will predict most aspects of their experience, like their level of commitment and identification with the organization. The more one feels they belong, the more one expects a correlation of those factors.

Why do people feel that they belong? And, what can your organization do to help deepen that feeling? One answer comes from the “secret sauce” of Saturday Night Live’s success –  psychological safety. Charles Duhigg (Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times) writes about the role psychological safety plays at SNL in Fast Company. Since 1975 when the show first aired, the one constant has always been Lorne Michaels, the show’s first and only executive producer. Michaels says the reason why Saturday Night Live has succeeded is because he believes in abiding by two rules: giving everyone a voice, and enforcing that people need to really listen to each other.

A positive communication culture is a key to psychological safety, and essential for organizations to truly be successful. Positive communication culture doesn’t just allow, but encourage us to bring our true selves out. A lot has been written about the power of authenticity, but without the necessary communication within a group that destroy the barriers, authenticity is difficult to achieve.

Think of those rare times in your life where everyone in a group was comfortable taking off the masks they hide behind daily. The Breakfast Club is a great example. It brought us back to high school and shoved those social constructs and divisive norms in our faces. The longer the group of high schoolers stay trapped in detention hall together, the more they begin to show more of their authentic selves. By removing the “masks,” it allowed them to have deeper connections amongst each other. It made us all look back with disgust at those unwritten rules that prevented the friendship between the jock and nerd just one day before. The success of the story was in the proximity of the fantasy that should be, to the reality of what is. Authentic relationships fall just out of our grasp and always desired.

There are ways to create these spaces within our sisterhoods and brotherhoods. It takes deliberate effort, training, and strong leadership, but the negative communication patterns and norms can be replaced. “Drama” between members blocks psychological safety, authenticity and prevents the feeling of belonging. The drama that swirls through our organizations can be fought and beaten back.

Here are a few of strategies that I teach in my Drop the Drama program on critical communication skills for organizations and their members:

Personal Strategies

  • Don’t talk about them unless you’ve talked to them
  • Don’t listen to someone talk about someone unless they’ve talked to them
  • Be a great listener – help members feel safe to “take off their masks” with you

Organizational Strategies

  • Measurable membership standards clearly communicated regularly
  • Trained mediators that do not hold another chapter office
  • Regular skills training in confrontation and communication

We’ve all experienced a place where we can truly be ourselves, and when we explain it to others it just doesn’t translate. We tell that story, but the feeling can’t be shared through our words. I hate the saying that printed on many t-shirts: From the outside, you can’t understand and from the inside, you can’t explain. But, should that be how we feel with our sisters and brothers? Don’t settle for less. Fix it! Drop the Drama!!

Learn more about keynote speaker David Stollman and his newest keynote Drop the Drama: campuspeak.com/stollman.