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Move Difficult Employees Past the Drama and Into the Facts

Posted by Murphy, Mark at Friday, 02/22/2013 11:30 am
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Drama Queens and Kings need to be the center of attention and they’re emotionally and behaviorally provocative in how they try to make that happen. When one of these employees comes to you with a problem, they’re likely to be crying, or displaying crazy exaggerated happiness or even a false sense of intimacy; some kind of overblown emotion. What the Drama Queens and Kings are trying to effect with this are A) they want the attention that comes from bringing this problem and the more histrionics they produce the more likely they are to get noticed and B) they want to elicit a reaction from you so they can manipulate you and get you to do what they want.

This is why every action you take and conversation you have with these folks has to be factual. And the more emotional the Drama Queen and King becomes, and the more reactive they become, the more factual we as leaders need to become. Let’s take a look at how it works:

Imagine the Drama Queen or King comes into your office to let you know there’s a small leak in the roof, for example. Only this problem gets blown up until it sounds something like this: “You don’t know what it was like. It was horrible. There was a torrent of water and I thought I was going to die. It was unbelievable. We should evacuate the whole building; probably the building should be condemned!” And they go on and on like this all over a tiny drip in the ceiling.

Fight the urge to react emotionally

The key here is not to get provoked into an emotional reaction that matches their intensity like anger or harsh criticism. We’re going to empathize with their feelings, but we’re not going to react emotionally with something like, “Hey listen, just suck it up. It was a water leak; you’ve only got two drops in your desk; get over it.” Instead, we’re going to redirect the conversation into the realm of the factual and put the accountability for the situation back on the employee.

We might do this by saying, “Listen, I hear you feel frightened by this but I need you to tell me the facts.”

And don’t be surprised if you get more drama in response. In this example perhaps something like, “It was just awful. It was so scary.”

And then all we’re going to do, is keep redirecting the conversation back to the facts until we start to elicit some actual facts: “I hear you feel frightened by this, but I need to know the facts.” You can set some boundaries so this conversation doesn’t go on forever. Something like, “Look, I only have five minutes to listen before my meeting.” But you just want to keep asking for the facts. Psychologists sometimes call this the broken record technique and with good reason. You may have to repeat yourself five times in this conversation before you start to get at the facts.

Encourage self-sufficiency by pushing accountability

Once we move them past the drama and onto the facts (there’s a small leak in the roof) we’re going to encourage self-sufficiency by asking, “Okay, then, there’s a leak and you’ve got some drops of water on your desk. I have confidence that you’ve got the skills to handle this so what can you do right now to take care of this problem by yourself?” We’re going to push them to be self-sufficient and to be accountable for this situation that they’ve brought you. Because again, what they want to do is get you sucked into this with their emotions and their reactions, and you’re not going to take the bait. Instead, you’re going to keep encouraging self-sufficiency and force them into adult behavior.

Dealing with the Drama Queens and Kings isn’t complicated. It may be tiresome and require some discipline so as not to become reactionary, but redirecting these conversations to the factual is relatively easy. And the reason why this approach works is that the facts are just the facts: “There’s a leak in the ceiling.” It’s the interpretations (“there were torrents of water”) and the emotional reactions (“I almost died”) that make these situations dramatic. The facts work because you can fix the facts, and the facts don’t allow Drama Queens and Kings to bring attention to themselves. Instead, drilling down to the facts forces Drama Queens and Kings to take accountability for the problems they bring you. And that’s going to greatly diminish the number of problems they bring to you, which is ultimately what you’re interested in achieving with these employees.

Learn more about how to encourage self-sufficiency and avoid giving Drama Queens and Kings the extra attention they feed on by attending our webinar, Managing Narcissists, Blamers, Drama Queens and More.

Related Posts:

The Difference Between Blame and Excuses and Why It’s Important for Leaders
Delivering Critical Feedback to Difficult Personalities
What makes great listening so difficult?
Great Leaders Recognize the Four Stages of Accountability
How Can Leaders Successfully Communicate and Implement Change?

Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ

An expert in aligning goals and people to create thriving organizations, Mark leads one of the world’s largest studies on leadership and employee engagement.

Mark’s award-winning work has been featured numerous times in publications including The Wall St. Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Washington Post. His media appearances include CBS News Sunday Morning, ABC’s 20/20, Fox Business News and NPR. Mark has lectured at Harvard Business School, Yale University, University of Rochester and University of Florida. Mark is the author of five books including the McGraw-Hill international bestsellers, Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your People to Give It Their All and They’ll Give You Even More and Hard Goals. Mark’s most recent book, Hiring for Attitude, reflects the team’s latest research and insight into how hiring decisions can align with engagement goals and culture characteristics.

Leadership IQ’s turnaround, culture change, and performance enhancement through employee engagement work has been recognized in a diverse set of industries including healthcare, financial services, energy, manufacturing, logistics, and hospitality. From his roots as a turnaround specialist, Mark created Leadership IQ to address problems in performance before they hit the bottom line.

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