5 Ways to deal with the workplace drama queen

Rachel Farrell, Special to CareerBuilder

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You know the type: He or she is gossipy, passive aggressive and always looking to stir up trouble. That's right: It's the office drama queen -- and there's one in every office.

"There is not one business that doesn't experience at least some drama on occasion. When there are human relationships there is potential for drama," says Marlene Chism, author of "Stop Workplace Drama: Train Your Team to Have No Complaints, No Excuses and No Regrets." "Misunderstandings happen even between highly evolved people who have good intentions. No matter how great the hiring practices, we human beings create a lot of drama when we don't know how to master our energy or clear the fog to see the bigger picture."

But there's an important distinction to be made between dramatic personalities at work, says Chism. There's the 'Drama Queen,' who has a victim orientation – and the 'Queen Bee,' the persecutor. Both use manipulation, or undermining ways to get what she wants -- she may even be so temperamental that your colleagues walk on egg shells in order to avoid 'upsetting' her, Chism says.

But there are differences between the two.

"The Queen Bee uses her knowledge and power to bend the rules and get her way. Instead of whining, she is more of a bully. Often she is very skilled, knows the office politics and has built strategic relationships so that she can overrule the one who is supposed to be in charge," Chism says. "The employees know who the Queen Bee is because she usually is 'in' with someone in authority, if not her own boss, then someone of even higher rank."

But what many people don't understand are the motives behind such potentially destructive behavior.

"She wants recognition, power or attention. The drama queen has more clarity about what she wants. She is the one navigating the ship and that ship is pointed toward an island that is for her personal gain instead of toward and in alignment with the company mission and vision," Chism says.

But knowing all the reasons how and why there's workplace drama or an office drama queen won't do you any good if you don't know how to effectively deal with that personality.

Here are five tips for dealing with the drama queen in your office:

1. Get support from the top.

"If you are a manager and you have a drama queen that undermines your authority, you must be willing to talk to your boss and get his or her support," Chism says. But if your boss contributes to the problem by letting the drama queen get her way, gather the courage to talk to your boss. "Let [him or her] know how the drama queen's problem contributes to lost revenue, team problems and customer service."

2. Clarify the roles and responsibilities.

If the drama queen is doing things she's not supposed to, hold a team meeting and clarity the roles and the due process, Chism says.

"Let your employees know that you have backing from the top executives for dealing with someone going out of due process. Give an example so your team is clear on what is changing and what consequences will result if due process is ignored," she says. "Have your employees sign and date a document confirming that they understand the new rules and expectations."

3. Initiate a difficult conversation.

Whether it's with your boss, the drama queen or both, make sure your mindset is in the right place before meeting with anyone. Create an intention to replace drama with harmony and to help everyone grow.

"When you speak about the problem, take responsibility for the part you played before asking for the new behavior. For example, 'I let this slide for too long and didn't' clarify the roles and responsibilities,' or 'I was trying to keep the peace, and now this has become a customer service problem,'" she says. "Once you have owned the part you have played, you are free to state the problem and ask for the needed change."

4. Set a boundary.

"Make sure the person with whom you are having the difficult conversation knows what the boundary is. In other words, what is the consequence of ignoring your request? What measures can you put into place so that you get compliance and commitment?" Chism says. "For example, 'Marie, if this happens again, unfortunately I will have to write you up and send you home on suspension.'"

5. Discipline appropriately.

If you've addressed the situation, and held the difficult conversation, one of two things will happen: you will either have eliminated the drama, or you will be tested, Chism says.

"If your drama queen employee decides to test you, you cannot afford to ignore the situation. You must fulfill the promise you stated when you first set the boundary, even if doing so will make you the bad guy. If the discipline includes termination, good record-keeping of attempts to help the employee grow, and follow due process will come in handy."

Last Updated: 30/03/2011 - 10:24 AM


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