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Why drama is like a dozen donuts.

Who doesn’t love the first bite of a donut? It’s light, fluffy, sweet, indulgent and so satisfying.

Who doesn’t love being the person who brings the donuts to work?  You’re in, you have something everybody wants. For the first few hours of the day, you’re the most popular person at work.

But, after the first donut, maybe the second, definitely the third, that delightful feeling starts to change. Now, what first felt sweet feels leaden and weighty, a little sickening. Remorse sets in.

And so it goes with workplace drama.

What is workplace drama? Gossiping, hypothesizing, catastrophizing, taking a piece of information or small interaction and building full scenarios around it, mostly with others, maybe behind closed doors, maybe just in our own mind. If we’re honest, we’ve probably participated at some point in our lives. Sometimes we recognize drama as unproductive behavior, but sometimes it feels more like a survival strategy because our evolutionary instincts to participate in these behaviors are biological, not unlike our instinct to crave sweets.

A former colleague of mine had been persuaded for months that her boss was out to get her. She believed every meeting was brimming with disinterest. He never thanked her publicly, and he didn’t respond to her light and friendly banter. My colleague catastrophized, she panicked, she dramatically debriefed every interaction with any co-worker who would listen. When the time came for a formal conversation about performance, she was shocked to hear how much her manager valued her. His communication style was quiet and reserved. He preferred to carefully plan nearly every conversation, so he was unable to provide feedback in the moment (a topic for another day) and didn’t send the verbal and non-verbal cues of appreciation she craved. In the absence of understanding, and while being swept up in the drama, my colleague created a narrative that was far from the truth. She ate too many donuts.

At first, drama at work may feel essential and wonderful. You’re in the know, or at least part of the conversation where people who are in the know are hanging out. The gossip feels juicy and secretive, maybe even useful. The stories you’re telling yourself, or hearing from others, must be true, or why else would they be said aloud? But, by the end of the day, you’ve forgotten who knows what. You’re wondering who has the facts correct, and you’re retracing your verbal steps trying make sure your tracks are covered. You’re regretting the donuts.

We can do better. Drama costs us, organizationally and individually. Cy Wakeman has done fascinating research about what drama costs business in terms of lost productivity and time. It’s striking to realize how many hours in a day could be recaptured.

Drama also gets in the way of you leading the way you want to lead.

  • Drama erodes trust. Your colleagues may like knowing that you have information, and they’re also watching how you use it. If you’re sounding alarm bells, hyperbolizing, spreading rumors or talking about things in public that are meant to be discrete, people may be interested, but they’ll also be suspicious. Trust is so foundational, so easy to lose and so difficult to regain. Ask yourself if the tradeoff (that bite of the delicious donut) is worth having your colleagues see you as someone they shouldn’t trust.

  • Drama distracts. You have a job to do. You have results to deliver, people to manage, projects to complete and a team of colleagues who depend on you. If you’re caught up in drama, your eyes and ears are elsewhere, and you aren’t doing what you’re paid to do. It’s that simple. 

  • Drama contorts the truth. When we’re swept up in the drama, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s real. We believe the stories we hear, and the stories we tell ourselves–sometimes without our knowledge–are amplified.

No one can blame you for being drawn to drama or donuts, but in both cases, you are accountable for getting sucked into it, and you are responsible for making better choices for your long-term health and happiness. Stuck on a habit that’s not serving you and is stopping you from leading the way you want? Let’s get honest about it, make a plan and unleash the behaviors that lead to professional wellness!