“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”
Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls
One of the things I don’t miss about working in an office setting is the gossip mill. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that conversation that starts with people politely sharing about their weekend, or their kids that quickly degrades into negative talk about the unlucky person or persons who happen to be absent at the moment. I remember getting caught up in more of those conversations than I’d like to admit. I also remember the ‘icky’ feelings I had as I walked back to my desk; promising myself that I would never do it again. Welcome, my friends, to a control drama.
A control drama is typically initiated by a person who is feeling low on power or energy. It’s a way to get others to pay attention to them and to stimulate specific reactions from others to make themselves feel good. The end result is a sensation of control and superiority. The good feelings gained are won at the expense of someone else. And, oddly enough, most people aren’t even aware that they’re doing it.
Conversations start off innocently enough with friendly banter, broad comments, leading questions, and phrases that might even hint at concern or caring for the other person. But, if you listen long enough and pay attention, you’ll soon hear the messages degrade to opinions, emotions, judgments and blame. And, there you have it, a full-blown control drama!
In the case of office gossip, the object of attention might be another department, a manager, a disliked policy or process, or even the company at large. Either way, it’s unproductive and potentially damaging. So, what’s a person to do?
- First, be aware that you have a choice to participate in the control drama, or not.
- Then, notice ‘how’ you participate. Are you an active contributor? Do you just stand there and laugh or cheer others on? Or, are you the silent one at the back, frozen in place, who bites their tongue?
- Next, notice how it makes you feel. Do you get revved-up? Does it make you feel good about yourself? Are you relieved that you’re not the topic of conversation? Do you feel sick to your stomach?
- Lastly, decide whether you wish to continue the cycle or not.
If you’re someone who gets energized by the flow of gossip, then I can already imagine what your decision will be. You can stay and keep the conversation going, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t warn you about backlash. You see, there will be an occasion when you’re not at the water cooler. And, guess who will be the topic of conversation that day? Just something to think about.
If you wish to remove yourself from the control drama, here are a few ways you might go about it:
- You can try to turn the flow of conversation to a more positive topic.
- You can politely excuse yourself from the group.
- Or, if you’re really BOLD, you can name the conversation for what it is, gossip, and ask for it to stop (either within the group, or privately with the initiator).
I can tell you from experience that the second option can be a powerful move that sends a message without requiring you to open your mouth. Even a mildly perceptive group of people will understand your gesture. However, if that doesn’t work, you may be faced with having to move on to more daring actions, or removing yourself from the group permanently.
I did eventually make a break with the control drama kings and queens in my life. I’ve found others that share my lack of desire for drama with whom to socialize; and we still have plenty to talk about. Although that means I’m no longer part of the “in the know” group, I feel happier, lighter, and more authentic than ever before.