Office Diaries

An insider's guide to success in the workplace

How To Handle a Drama Queen

Being effective starts with seeing drama for what it really is.

First of all, drama queen implies it’s a girlie thing. It’s not. Males and females alike are equally capable of requiring way more energy than a relationship with them is worth. Drama, being a close kin to high maintenance, may manifest itself in behaviors that look different across the continuum of masculinity to femininity, but make no mistake, drama kings are every bit as real as drama queens. So for the purposes of this piece, we’ll be talking, “drama persons.” From there the issue is, what do you do when one crosses your path? The easy answer is, nothing. But it is a conscious, deliberate and strategic nothing that nets the most impact.

Drama is a symptom—a symptom of childhood. If you participate—on any level—you feed a monster who is trapped in a time warp, but escapes every so often. That monster is determined to suck you into his or her own personal, self-esteem issues (a.k.a. drama) that were never resolved. It is an ego-gone-wild, trying to right some wrong that you need to see contextually with its origins rooted in the past.

Drama persons thrive on attention, but that’s because they learned to feel invisible and unimportant. This is where the drama comes from. They are merely trying to convince themselves, by trying to convince you, that they matter. They are blind to the feelings of others and have failed to develop the coping skills necessary for an adult life. Call it arrested development, call it a failure to grow up and evolve, but underneath it all they have yet to outgrow (or dispel) whatever negative feelings they learned to believe about themselves. The sad part is that if their behavior weren’t such a turnoff, there would be plenty of reason to have compassion for them, which ironically is what they really need to heal their wounds and move one.

Whether it is from believing they were not loved, not good enough, not wanted or accepted, an internal narrative developed, almost always unconscious, that plays out when memories of those feelings are triggered and/or come to the surface. In that process they exhaust everyone in the present by replaying whatever story they are telling themselves from their pasts. And so they act out.

Despite their efforts to involve you, there is nothing you can do to change them because changing them means trying to change personal histories, which is not possible. It’s done. It’s over. So, don't try. You’ll exhaust yourself. Each drama person must decide for him or herself to embark on a road of self-awareness and growth. If he or she doesn’t, the will to remain stuck is impenetrable. The only thing you can do is manage yourself, which is where doing nothing comes into play. Know how to draw a line. Know when to walk away. And don’t be afraid to say that the drama scene doesn’t work for you. That choice is yours to make. And when you do, they will disengage from the behavior—at least with you. They have to. You’ve left them with no alternative.

  

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Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations and a New York City-based dancer.

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