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Do You Work with a Prima Donna? 6 Tips for Coping

manage-workplace-diva-employeesHave you paid the price when a melodramatic, self-aggrandizing team member has hurt your organization by spreading unnecessary chaos and discontent? “Artistes” like this have never learned how to share top billing, glory, or status and they’re rarely aware of how they aggravate their colleagues.

Some people operate at this level of intensity to ensure they get the attention they believe they deserve. Instead of contributing to group esprit and collaboration, their primary focus is on themselves and how events affect them, so they tend to drain both leaders’ and peers’ energy. To make things worse, they often walk away from the messes they make, and expect others to clean them up.

How to Spot a Diva

These headliners’ dramas can range from obvious, immature outbursts — like storming out of a meeting that’s not going smoothly — to backstage petulance — like quietly withdrawing resources from a team that goes in a direction they oppose. But histrionic colleagues also have other, less recognizable, equally damaging behaviors to watch out for, such as:

  • Telling evocative tales that forecast sharply positive or negative outcomes instead of making dispassionate cases with substantive data;
  • Fussing and sulking behind the scenes instead of handling an issue on the level or moving on to more productive topics;
  • Laying blame for problems and failures at everyone’s door but their own; and
  • Ignoring the contributions of others and claiming that every success is the result of their own or their team’s foresight and activities.

Dialing Back the Operatics

Businesses can’t afford the waste of time and effort or the damage to innovation, creativity, and forward movement that prima donnas cause. Most people from teammates to senior leaders are deeply uncomfortable with excessive emotionalism and ongoing manipulation, and may back down or self-censor to avoid triggering such highhanded behavior. Unfortunately, when divas don’t receive the necessary feedback and discipline, they never learn how to build a case dispassionately or develop a thoughtful analysis.

If you have a prima donna on your team, try these six ways to help them bring their communications and behaviors into the normal range:

  1. Give them the opportunity to vent or they won’t be able to function, but be sure to limit the scope and duration of the outpouring. In public settings, don’t let them run away with the microphone, the floor, the marker, the airwaves, or the lunchroom.
  2. Remind them that if they want to be treated like successful business managers, they need to edit out some of the emotionalism and personalizing. Explain that the greater the seriousness of the situation, the more they need to stay in control of themselves if they want to have credibility.
  3. Teach them not to treat routine challenging situations as huge dire problems. Guide them into a presentation model — “This is what I’ve noticed; here are the ramifications; and here are the choices” — to help them approach their presentations as dispassionate and logical journalistic reporting.
  4. When they declare that X will happen and it will be terrible, require them to substantiate the claim. Ask: “What’s your evidence? What if it does happen and it’s not so bad? What if it doesn’t happen?”
  5. Help them focus on what is actually working in order to counteract their retelling of negative stories.
  6. And don’t say no unnecessarily or automatically. Show them that when they manage to provide the appropriate evidence and maintain the appropriate demeanor, you’ll take their concerns seriously and act on them.

Onward and upward,


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