We’ve all experienced the difficult and disruptive personality of the Drama Queen or King. This is the person who wants everything to be about them. They want everyone’s emotions amped up. They want everybody in a highly-agitated, almost crisis-like state and collectively moaning “Oh my goodness, everything’s going to be horrible.”
What do we do about the Drama Queen and King? Attacking them directly by saying “Hey, would you stop being so darn dramatic and just calm down!” isn’t going to work. This is just being dramatic ourselves. The most effective approach is a twofold process that uses #1: fact-based communication and #2: a technique called Redirection.
Drama Queens and Kings don’t like to live in the world of facts. To be clear, the facts are those things that you can see and hear. The facts are objective and can be videotaped. Drama Kings and Queens much prefer to live in the amped up, emotionally-loaded world of interpretations and emotional reactions. You can see this evidenced in their histrionics, the exaggerated gestures and facial expressions, and especially in the language they choose to use. “Everything is bad. Everything is calamitous and a giant mess. It’s going to be horrible and we need to be afraid.” When Drama Kings and Queens speak, you’re likely to hear a lot of adjectives, emotional words and absolutes.
What we’re going to do to deal with the Drama Queen and King is to move past the emotional reactions and the interpretations and bring them back to facts. “I hear what you’re saying, but I really need to know the facts,” is one of the most useful phrases there is when dealing with Drama Queens and Kings.
Let’s say the Drama King or Queen comes in and says “There’s a leak in the roof and some water dripped into my cubicle and now I’m pretty sure that the whole building is going to collapse. Oh my goodness, has this company ever thought about life insurance policies for its employees? I don’t even know how I’m going to work anymore!”
It’s a lot of drama, but we just calmly respond by bringing the conversation back to the facts. “I hear what you’re saying. I’d like to go back and just talk about the facts again for a second.” Note that we refrain from adding on an emotional tag such as “…before we start buying funeral plots for everybody that works in the company because we’ve all fallen into a giant sinkhole.” We simply stick to identifying the facts “Let’s just go back for a second. You said there was water dripping, right?”
“Yes, I came back to my desk and I found a puddle of water on my desk.”
“I’m just curious, did you see that water fall from the ceiling?”
“No, but it must’ve…”
Okay, you can see where this is going. This is where we want to find out: Where did the water come from? Do we know what kind of water it is? Do we know what that means? It may take several attempts to get the Drama Queen or King off of the drama of “It’s all horrible…”and focused onto the facts. It’s OK to be a broken record here and repeat your request for the facts, but do set some boundaries. You might say “Listen, I’ve only got five minutes right now so I really need to understand what the facts are.” When you keep pushing for the facts what you often discover is that there isn’t all that much to be dramatic about.
This is the time to introduce the technique of Redirection. When the Drama Queen or King comes to tell us that everything is bad and horrible, what they want is to put the responsibility for their drama onto us. Redirection is where, instead of getting sucked into this dynamic, we put the responsibility back on them.
So when they say “The water is on my desk and that means the roof is going to collapse and we’re all going to die,” we redirect by saying “I’m just curious, what steps have you taken to investigate the source of that water so far?” The Drama King or Queen might say “None, no steps. I mean, it’s obvious, the water is coming from the roof,” but we just keep on redirecting. “I’m curious, I’m wondering if you might go back to your desk and maybe investigate where the water actually came from.” Redirection forces them to grapple with the situation, which is important because one of the things that Drama Queens and Kings want is to avoid responsibility for all their drama.
Remember, the drama is all the interpretations and the emotional reactions and not usually the facts themselves. Focusing the conversation on the facts and using the redirection technique ensures we don’t reinforce their attention-getting tactics. Instead, we calmly and coolly hold the Drama King or Queen accountable for resolving the problem themselves.
New York Times bestselling author
Founder of Leadership IQ
Mark Murphy is a New York Times bestselling author and Founder of Leadership IQ, a research and training firm that uses science to develop great leaders.
Mark has consistently been ranked as one of the Top 30 leadership gurus in the world, and some of his most well-known research studies include “Are SMART Goals Dumb?,” “Why CEO’s Get Fired,” “Why New Hires Fail,” “High Performers Can Be Less Engaged,” and “Don’t Expect Layoff Survivors to Be Grateful.”
Mark leads one of the world’s largest leadership studies, and his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and U.S. News & World Report. Mark has also appeared on CNN, NPR, CBS News Sunday Morning, ABC’s 20/20, and Fox Business News.
Mark has lectured at The United Nations, Harvard Business School, Microsoft, Merck, MasterCard, Charles Schwab, Aflac and hundreds more.
Mark’s most recent book was the New York Times bestseller, Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your People to Give It Their All and They’ll Give You Even More. Before that, his book Hiring for Attitude was featured in Fast Company, The Wall St Journal, and chosen as a top business book by CNBC. Some of his other titles include HARD Goals: The Science of Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be and The Deadly Sins of Employee Retention.