Distancing Yourself from Co-Worker Drama Royalty
Let us be clear: when we talk about “drama royals,” we’re not talking only about women. We are referring to people who make it a point to talk about and even instigate “drama” wherever they go.
How can you tell when someone is drama royalty? Here are a few clues:
- They’re complainy-pants.
- They love to gossip.
- They overreact to even the slightest hint of an affront (hence the “drama”).
- They get bored quickly. Real-life is sometimes dull, so they go out of their way to create “excitement” – often in the form of conflict – to enliven existence.
- They crave attention. After all, attention is never boring.
- No matter their problems, theirs are often worse than anyone else’s.
Many people think drama royals are relatively harmless. And they can be.
But they risk harming their career progression. And, if you become close with one, you may hurt your own, as well.
That sounds harsh, especially if you’re friends with someone who is just a “minor” drama royal. Yet you do run the risk of hurting your career by simple association.
The actions/attitudes of drama royalty are often unprofessional and immature.
That said, it is appropriate to hold some compassion for your colleague: drama royalty behaviors can be a sign of deep insecurity and low feelings of self-worth.
How to – nicely – distance yourself from the drama royals at work
Now that you know that being close with drama royals – or even exhibiting this type of behavior – is, to put it bluntly – BAD, what can you do to stay professionally friendly without being dragged into their dramatic world?
- Don’t go out of your way to engage in small talk.
You’re just asking for the whining and drama to begin! You certainly can – and want to – say “Good morning.” But get ready for the theatrics if you follow up with “How are you?”
If the person engages with you, be polite but aim to extricate yourself as soon as you can. Listen to complaints briefly – say a minute or two. And then say, “I’m so sorry, but I need to get (something) done.” Or, “I’m sorry; I’m late to a meeting.” (Never lie; if you have no meeting, go with the “get something done.”)
- Look for exaggerations.
The dramatic lot loves to exaggerate minor problems. They’re also prone to focusing on small slights by others and making them significant.
For example, they could describe a minor mistake they made, exaggerate the degree of their boss’s (more than likely) professional reprimand or correction. Then they might declare, “My boss hates me; I know I’m going to get fired.”
Don’t fall for it and certainly don’t commiserate in kind. You can say, “Oh, no,” but don’t overemphasize sympathy. Then be quiet and then remove yourself as soon as you politely can.
- Don’t feed into their need for attention.
The main thing dramatic colleagues want is attention. A day’s just not a good day unless they get someone to basically say, “Oh, you poor dear!”
So when your colleague approaches you with a huge sigh and says, “I’m having SUCH a bad day,” or looks really sad (and you’ll be able to tell it’s somewhat exaggerated compared to when someone truly is sad and trying stoically to get through the day as a professional would), aim to ignore it.
That’s right. No comment. Nothing. If it’s obvious the dramatics won’t stop until they are acknowledged, say something like, “I’m sorry things aren’t going well.”
- Set limits.
There may be times your colleague just won’t give up. You might have to engage in some way with them, being exposed to their distracting – and exhausting – drama.
This is why you may want to take some time to determine which of their behaviors you won’t entertain.
What really bugs you about their behavior? Too many texts to go over and over some perceived slight? Incessant gossip? Playing the victim?
If necessary, rank them and then start “working” on the ones that stress you out the most.
Meet with your colleague privately and be specific:
“I feel stressed and uncomfortable when you [say/do] this.”
“I know you don’t realize how uncomfortable this makes me, so I’m letting you know. I value you, and I want to be friendly, but I do have my limits.”
- If the behavior continues, you may have to bring a supervisor into the mix.
The drama royal may take affront and turn you into the enemy (prepare for this). If they do or, even if they continue to come to you with their drama, it’s time to head to your manager.
It is likely your manager has already noticed your co-worker’s behavior. They may not have addressed it with your colleague, but if you continue to feel uncomfortable and stressed, you should bring it up with your manager.
Drama royal-ish behavior can be unsettling on so many levels. Some workplace experts believe such employees should be fired as they can lower team morale AND disrupt business. A good manager will – at the least – reach out to your co-worker to hold them accountable for their unprofessional behavior. They might even help them improve their overall performance: a win for everyone).
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