Like tornadoes, drama queens whirl through the workplace, suck the oxygen out of the air you breathe, and their strength leaves behind a huge swathe of destruction. Like emotional vampires, they zap the energy out of you in five seconds and you can find you’ve reached your breaking point. For the drama queen, the workplace is their stage. They immerse you in crisis driven stories, exaggerate their details and inject their fangs without warning, worshiping you one minute and setting you on fire the next.
You all have that co-worker, the one who overplays every situation. Workplace drama creeps its way into all professions but that doesn’t mean it has to stay. You may not have the co-worker because some of you are that person. Too early, too soon? Everyone does drama to some degree and when someone professes they don’t do drama at all, it’s time to give them the mirror.
So how do you dethrone the office drama queen?
Drama queens never see themselves as part of the problem
There is always someone else or something else to blame. If they look at themselves, they are the victim and immerse themselves in the attention to divert any conversations about what is really going on. Drama invites drama.
This very elite group of women and men are highly skilled in both engaging and repelling everyone around them. A selfie whilst embarking on a once in lifetime Europe trip, having your first book published or about to celebrate your wedding anniversary seems to fit within the realm of what most people would publish, however, committed drama queens capture all elements of their world, themselves and the food they eat. They obsess with looking perfect, every last detail from hair, nails, and makeup. All this preening and posing leaves little time for meaningful relationships.
They troll for allies, turn conversations into a competition and their modus operandi in drama is to feel justified. The payoff – “see, l was right”. Drama queens build bonds with people who share in their negativity – people who join in on name calling, shaming and guilting make the best companions.
Bold & The Beautiful
When on the sidelines, drama queens can be funny or fascinating. Think about the Real Hollywood Housewives, Bold and the Beautiful or Days of our Lives – hyperbole and hysteria. They catastrophize small anxieties into big disasters, cry wolf at the slightest sign of trouble to be rescued, obsess over ideas of beauty, wealth and awesomeness. Trump any good or bad fortune with a story of their own, they will throw you under the bus and very quickly will point fingers. They display theatrical shows of vulnerability to dominate conversations with personal stories and can make threats to self-harm when the spotlight slips away. They spray their chaos onto you.
Katherine Crowley, co-author of Working with You Is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work describes drama queens as people who can’t self-regulate their own emotions so when something happens, they may feel as of their world is ending. More often, it’s not.
Entitlement to attention
Everything that happens in the world will personally affect a drama queen. The one who posts on social media after a tragedy about their feelings and how it has affected them. The slightest comment or action will convert into their own personal story.
The drama queen constantly is searching for more significance in their life. In today’s digital world, fear is handed on a platter for people to consume. The drama queen, also known as the “disaster matcher” heavily invests in the sad news with an intent to amplify how they have been affected more than anyone else.
The drama queen loves to tell anyone who will listen to their frustrations. They will roll their eyes, sigh loudly begging for someone to ask them what is wrong. If nobody engages, they will volunteer an explanation as to why they are so bothered and continue to repeat the variations of the drama to whoever will listen over the next 10 years. They will capitalize on any opportunity.
Identification of the traits of a drama queen early and taking immediate action to set clear, strong boundaries will preserve your sanity and serenity. Let me share with you tips on how to have better conversations with “queens” who drive you crazy, how to avoid behaving like them and if you need to, de-throne them.
Are you a Drama Queen?
Sometimes you need to undertake a self-assessment to determine if the drama queen is you. If there are multiple people in your life basking in drama, then the common denominator is you. Take stock and ask yourself:
- Do you feel important when someone immerses their neediness on you?
- Are you the “sanest” one in your group and this makes you feel safe and important?
- When you are amongst a group of people do you like to stir things up and bring the focus back to you?
- When you listen to a friend sharing a recent painful event, are you caught up in your own mindset thinking about your life events and what story you can share with them or how you can top that?
- You gain a few extra pounds and you view it as a catastrophic disaster?
- Are you always sharing the highs and lows of your life, convinced every detail matter to your audience?
- Do you describe you every day as horrible, terrible, awful, tragic in it?
- When something relatively minor happens or doesn’t go your way, do you ensure that everyone within earshot knows about it at that moment or one week, 2 months or 1 year later you continue to ruminate how unjust the world can be?
If there is a resounding yes to any of these questions, you may want to hit the pause button and re-evaluate your level of importance when it comes to any type of relationship. Every human being wants to feel valued but when the scales tip over and your need for attention outweighs your need for healthy relationships, it’s time to edit the story.
Invest in you
One of the greatest ways to drop your inner drama queen is to practice personal solitude. Rather than walk the easy path of external distractions, take the path less traveled. Crowley suggests practicing “physically unhooking” by finding the best ways for you to release the tension the drama queens create. Go for a walk, practice yoga, allocate time to meditate to support you to be grounded and come back to your center.
Get her to become an observer
As a leader, interrupt the dynamic to move the conversation along. When in conversation suggest the drama queen alter their physical space. For instance, if she was sitting on a chair in the office ask her to move the chair to the furthest point in the office and face a different view. As her to look at the wall as though it is a TV screen and she is watching the last event being played out. Ask them to describe what happened in a detached manner. If stuck from detaching, move the chair even further away until watching as a curious observer.
Focus on the facts, not story
When you focus on the facts you are better equipped to manage the situation more effectively. Drama queens will tap into their overactive imaginations and you will hear things like, “she thinks this and that about me” as if they are a mind reader or “I have this gut feeling”. Continual reinforcement of bringing them back to the facts will either create a shift in thinking or they will move on to the next person.
Knock off a drama queen’s crown
Office drama queens need to be dethroned. Most people thrive on drama because they believe in their drama and think the problem is outside of them. When engaged with a drama queen, boundaries are imperative. When they begin to vent, establish the fact that you can no longer take part in the drama. You will need to lead by example.
Invest in how can l help?
Workplace conflict about insignificant details wastes time if the project goal or bigger picture has been embraced. Rolling eyes about a deadline or requested revisions set a bad example for others on a team. Drama erupts when groups waste time arguing about what can’t be done. Instead, make it happen.
Stop rewarding the behavior
When you engage in discussion, even passive listening when the dirt is being dished about others, you reinforce the drama venting. If you rescue them or take their accusation personally, you have entered the web. Setting boundaries and standard about what you will tolerate gives the drama queen a clear message. Tell the truth and tell them that “the venting doesn’t work for you”. You set the standard about how you want to be treated and what you tolerate.
Short-circuit a quest for attention and put responsibility back where it should be. Make a suggestion but don’t fix the problem. You don’t want to build a co-dependent relationship, rather empower queens to find solutions on their own.
Angela Kambouris built a high-level career as an executive in the field of vulnerability and trauma. A global leadership consultant and founder of Evoluccion Consulting Agency, she helps organizations to increase the abilities of their operations, improve the performance of their employees and build a stronger company culture. Angela writes for large publications, coaches, and trains on the power of leadership, executive presence, cultivating high-performing teams, and leading people-centric cultures. Let’s connect!