Q: I work with two drama queens. "Arielle" is always sure I or others are out to get her and make her look bad to our boss. She dragged me into the bathroom this morning for a heart-to-heart about something she says she overheard me say and refused to listen to me tell her I never said anything remotely like that. To get her off my back, I told her I'd take her out to lunch.
"Mike," a DQ in male form, obsesses daily about whether he'll lose his job because our company's finances are precarious. It never dawns on him that he'd help all the rest of us if he'd actually work instead of texting, chatting and Internet surfing. Because he's convinced his career failure must be someone else's fault, he vents to me and everyone else about our boss. I'm not the only one who groans when Mike stops by for a quick "chat."
A: Drama queens and kings. Like hurricanes, they whirl through the workplace, sucking the oxygen out of the air you and others breathe. Five minutes with a drama king or queen saps more energy than an hour on an elliptical. Your escape?
Recognize drama queens and kings for what they are
Drama kings and queens consider the workplace a stage and you an audience or at best a bit player. They regale you with woe-is-me crises and exaggerated tales. These ego-gone-wild drama kings/queens lack empathy for others and the coping skills to roll with the punches of everyday work life.
Their deep secret -- like spiders spinning in the center of an energy vortex, they need your support to get through their roller-coaster day. And, like spiders, they can bite without warning, worshipping you one minute and despising you the next due to imagined slights.
Notice whats happening
At first, the office DKQ may have fascinated you and added excitement to your workday. Her purported vulnerability may have tugged at your heart strings. Soon, however, you realize you're spending the day putting out the DKQ's fires. You're drained, sucked dry of the energy and enthusiasm you need to fuel your own work life. You might feel angry, guilt-tripped, exhausted -- all signals you need to change how you deal with the DKQ.
Trust and act on what you're feeling. If you let a DKQ continue sucking you into his or her personal issues, you wind up carrying both of you on your back.
Exercise drama control
Now comes the hard decision: You know you're not the DKQ's personal 911, so how do you draw the line and make them stop?
First, stop rewarding their behavior. If you empathetically listen when they dish the dirt about others, you reinforce their venting. If you take their accusations personally or rescue them when they act out, you enter into their drama. For example, don't let an Arielle guilt-trip you into buying her lunch to make up for what you've never said.
Second, set limits. Are you giving your DKQ open season time? When Mike next stops by to chat, say, "I've got too much work to do to chat." If he asks, "What's the matter?" tell him the truth. "This venting doesn't work for me." He'll wander off and find someone new -- and leave you blessedly alone.
Do you work with a drama king or queen? Recognize them for what they are, notice what's happening and exercise drama control.
Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of "Solutions" and "Beating the Workplace Bully" and owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10, at www.workplacecoachblog.com or at her new site www.bullywhisperer.com.