THE BLOG
09/05/2014 11:06 am ET Updated Nov 05, 2014

3 Steps for Dealing With Drama Kings and Queens at the Office

Every workplace has drama kings or queens -- people who are likely to hold meetings hostage with tears, or sabotage initiatives because no one wants to deal with another of their tantrums.

These people do more than drain the collective energy of their teams and organizations; they draw on their resources as well, costing billions in lost productivity. The thing about drama kings and queens is that their lines are predictable and they need an audience. What happens if leaders change the script?

Emotional Manipulators

Forbes' Mike Myatt aptly sums up the problem of "subordinates who use emotional deceit as a weapon of destruction. Every workplace is plagued with manipulative people who use emotion to create conflict in order to cover up for their lack of substance." These people do not only get emotional about their particular stance on issues, but they also use emotional manipulation to get their way -- crying, sulking, wildly gesticulating, blaming, playing one side against the other, laying guilt trips ... the list of tactics they use to leverage themselves or their position goes on, and on.

The High Cost Of Drama

What do managers and coworkers do when confronted by Tony-caliber dramatists? "Don't cry. Let's talk about this. It's okay." Or, "Calm down. Don't worry; we'll get this done." Or, "Don't be upset. We'll just forget it for now."

They try to appease the manipulators -- and the manipulators win. They use their hysterics as a tool, an emotional hammer, against individuals or groups.

If emotional manipulation is a hammer, it's also a chisel, working away at company profits. In Stop Complainers and Energy-Drainers: How to Negotiate Work Drama to Get More Done, Linda Byars Swindling reports that 78 percent of employees spend at least 3-6 hours each week dealing with complainers and drama queens and kings. That's 150-300 hours per year at an average cost of $4,320-$12,320 per employee. Overall, Swindling writes energy-drainers, complainers, drama queens and hammer-wielding manipulators cost American companies more than $500 billion annually.

Drama won't just stop of its own accord, especially after manipulators claim a few victories and the prevailing message becomes, "I can get away with this."

Dealing With Office Drama

Don't capitulate. When someone becomes emotional:
  • Take a break. If it's in a meeting, take five and tell everyone to rehydrate, go for a walk, or grab a snack. The last thing you want to do is entertain the drama; a break is akin to the audience getting up and leaving the theater. The show does not go on.
  • Go into question mode. When you reconvene and everyone is calmer, begin asking questions. This forces the drama king or queen to articulate their answers and get back to facts. Take emotion out of the equation. They will not want to! But keep questions logical and objective.
  • Evaluate the situation. Everyone is entitled to a mistake. There are situations that may evoke intense emotion, and even the best employees can react without thinking. The question is: Does this happen often? What is this person's track record? Where is the emotion coming from? If it is a pattern of behavior, it's time to re-evaluate the person's role in the organization.

Is It A Firing Offense?

When does drama cross the line and provide sound cause for firing the individual? If Ed from accounting stands up and throws a glass of water in someone's face in a fit of emotion (I've seen it), we have a big problem. Well, Ed has a big problem.

It is bad enough to have people within the organization who create and perpetuate drama. Worse is when managers, executives and the CEO do not recognize it and take action.

They enable the behavior and show others that they can engage in manipulation, drama, and conflict -- because it works. They know that if they do, they'll get their way. It becomes ingrained in organizational culture, at the risk of morale, productivity, and profitability. The only thing worse than it happening is allowing it to happen.

Mike Harden is an executive coach based in the DC area, serving Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland. Contact him today to learn more.