How to manage and work with divas

Extreme collabohaters: the diva

Diva used to be a word that carried some weight. Though renowned for their demanding ways, divas were so uniquely talented that they were almost always worth the trouble. It used to be an exclusive club; now it’s open enrollment. The title used to be reserved for the Whitney Houstons and Aretha Franklins of the world; now you personally probably know at least six people who call themselves divas mostly because they post quotes like “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” on social media.

In thinking about collaborating with divas in your business, I’m going to be generous and assume you’re dealing with a dynamo, someone whose talent and value to your company is clear. If the cruel hands of fate have instead dealt you a delusional diva – a wannabe Bey who can’t even carry a tune – a more severe course of action may be necessary.

Oh, no, you’re managing a diva!

Ultimately, of course, you’d like to create a diva-free business culture, but that isn’t always realistic. When managing a diva, strike a delicate balance between resolve and accommodation. Know when to pick your battles – and insulate other members of your team from having to go into battle themselves.

Divas typically possess enormous gifts in a specific area. That doesn’t mean it translates elsewhere. Many divas feign or genuinely possess indifference for matters not directly related to their turf, but others will play the know-it-all card whether the conversation turns to their department or any department. Or local politics. Or Hollywood. You get the idea. Meddling divas are more corrosive, so managers need to work particularly hard in those cases to keep their team members in their respective lanes. The buzz about flattened org charts is great… until it leads to some Kanye from your accounts department trying to dictate the terms of your product roadmap.

Even divas take a tumble now and then (sometimes they fall from grace completely). Instead of succumbing to schadenfreude – tempting though it may be – or foolishly assuming that tough times will humble the hard-headed, the responsible thing to do as a manager is to be generous (but honest) with praise. Let the thirsty flowers drink!

Oh, no, you work with divas!

As John Greathouse points out, divas aren’t all bad. Even if you don’t particularly like them personally, you may be able to take some inspiration from them. “Many of the same precepts which lead to a startup’s success are also precursors to a performer’s stardom,” Greathouse says.

A real diva – again, not just those who hide behind the word as an excuse for petulance and self-absorption – is almost certainly a hard worker who’s hungry for success. If you are frustrated because your diva colleague is aloof about a certain initiative – adopting a new collaboration solution, for instance – try framing the issue in a way that makes the personal benefit clear, thus playing into their center-of-universe outlook, but also emphasizes the more ambitious bigger picture; it’s not just about learning a new log-in for a new tool, it’s about shaking up the status quo.

Oh, no, the diva is your client!

If you’re dealing with a diva client, you’ll want to consult our Usual Clients infographic to help remember what’s fueling the seemingly insane demands you’re receiving. And then follow Steve Hall’s advice for dealing with difficult clients: listen, repeat, document and entertain. Make the effort to really get inside their heads (not in a creepy way). Know not just what they want but why they want it. And, as Hall notes, yes, the customer/client is always right, but sometimes you won’t gain a client’s respect until you show a bit of backbone.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.