Ways to Deal With Drama or Manipulation at Work

Ways to Deal With Drama or Manipulation at Work

By Vivian A. Scott

A lot of workplaces have at least one person who could be described as a drama queen manipulator. Male or female, it can be difficult not to get sucked into their histrionics.

So, how do you deal with a drama queen manipulator? First, as hard as it might be, don’t respond in like kind.

If she or he is rushing into your cubicle talking a mile a minute about what just occurred in the break room, make sure you’re not matching the level of drama with your body language or excited tones. Sit back, take a breath, and be mindful about you say and do next.

Respond to the reaction rather than the content. By that I mean rather than asking details about who said what and being overly interested in the answer, ask what it is about the incident that upsets her.

You could say something like, “Tell me why that bothers you” instead of making a judgment comment on the details of the story.

If you need to address dramatic or manipulative behavior with a co-worker, always go directly to the person and always within the context of a private conversation. Anyone who likes to stir up the bee’s nest will not accept a public calling-out.

Be clear about what you’re observing, how it makes you feel, and what you’d like to see happen moving forward. For example, say something like “I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of talk going on about the project and it makes feel uncomfortable. I think from here on out I’ll pass on any conversation about that unless it’s with the rest of the group and the purpose is to find a solution.

What do you think about that?” This approach lets the person know you’re no longer willing to play the drama or manipulation game while asking her to participate in finding a better way to handle her disruptions.

If you manage a drama queen or manipulator, set clear expectations about general behavior and then be specific with behaviors you want to stop-which means you’ll have also have to describe behaviors you want to see.

For example, telling someone to stop being manipulative is less effective than telling them to discuss issues about the project only with you and Susan. Tie your behavioral expectations to his performance review (with specific and measurable metrics) but be sure to shut down the dramatic behavior when it occurs rather than waiting weeks or months to discuss it.

Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator with a private practice in the Seattle area. Author of “Conflict Resolution At Work For Dummies” (Wiley Publishing 2009), which is a practical guide for resolving problems at work, she believes the book is a must-have for anyone interested in restoring peace, training others to get along better, preventing conflicts from ever starting, and boosting morale.

The advice contained in the book works just as well for individuals outside the workplace. See Scott’s website at for more information on mediation and resolving conflicts.

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