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Make the Workplace a Drama-Free Zone

By Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D.

Do you have a drama queen (or king) in your office? For these employees, a calm, peaceful workday is simply not very rewarding, so they try to spice things up with dramatic pronouncements, juicy gossip, ominous rumors, personal traumas, or emotional breakdowns.

Why drama queens act that way
Some dramatic employees are simply enthusiastic, sociable people who love telling stories, but true drama queen behavior indicates an immature and somewhat narcissistic personality. Attention is the overriding motivator for drama queens. Despite their outgoing nature, these employees are actually rather insecure and only feel important when they occupy center stage.

Drama queens also seem to thrive on emotional stimulation, regardless of whether the emotions are positive or negative. When the work environment doesn’t provide enough excitement, they usually try to create some, because even a conflict is highly preferable to a dull daily routine.

Challenges for managers
The drama queen’s insatiable desire for excitement and attention can be a drain on both productivity and morale. Frequent hallway conversations and closed-door “therapy sessions” waste a considerable amount of time. Coworkers may feel helpless to escape these gabfests because they fear being impolite. More subdued colleagues, who find drama queens exhausting, often try to avoid working with them altogether.

These difficulties are compounded by the fact that, despite their disruptive behavior, drama queens are not necessarily bad performers. When needy employees drop by to share their latest family crisis or coworker conflict, managers often make another mistake: giving attention to the wrong behaviors. If you listen to lengthy stories, sympathize with trivial difficulties, or get involved with personal crises, you are rewarding the very conduct that you wish to eliminate. Similarly, if you agree to unreasonable requests simply to make the drama queen shut up, you are guaranteeing a repeat performance.

Suggested strategies
Drama queen employees should be viewed as a behavior management project. If they are producing satisfactory results, then the manager needs to focus on defining and reinforcing proper workplace conduct. Here are some suggested action steps for dealing with employees who bring the drama:

  • Explain that acceptable job performance includes both successful outcomes and appropriate behavior, then help the employee see the problems created by some of their actions. For example: “I’ve noticed that you spend a lot of time sharing personal stories with your coworkers. Although I want everyone to have friendly relationships, these conversations are taking too much time away from work, so I need for you to limit them to breaks and lunch.”
  • Have regular meetings to praise improvement and discuss ongoing challenges. These deeply ingrained behaviors will not change overnight, so frequent feedback is needed to help the employee learn what is appropriate and what is not.
  • Set aside time to discuss work-related subjects. Because these employees are “people people,” interaction with the manager is highly rewarding for them. If the conversation begins drifting into a long personal story, politely turn the topic back to work.

Want to learn more?
Listen to the webinar, “7 Challenging Employee Types: How to Manage Drama Queens, Slackers, and More” conducted by
Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D. Webinar. She discusses how to use a 10-step “coaching road map” to guide performance discussions, the 5-step AMISH formula for helping people change their behavior, coaching techniques, and much more.

Marie is the author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work and writes the nationally syndicated advice column “Your Office Coach.” She offers free coaching tips through her website, www.yourofficecoach.com.