The Diva: Toxic Workplace Behavior Profile

Updated: Feb 18, 2019


This series of articles explores some of the most common behavior profiles that persistently generate toxic conflict and provides tips on how to respond to each.


In Creative vs. Toxic Conflict at Work, and the toxic workplace behavior profile for The Submarine, I discussed one of the key features that distinguishes toxic conflict from creative conflict.


Creative conflict is rooted in the dynamics between people. In creative conflict, the motives and goals of group members are typically healthy and focused on a sincere desire to solve concrete external problems and challenges.


Toxic conflict is typically rooted in the personalities of individual people. While creative conflict is rooted in an external problem, toxic conflict is rooted in the problematic behavior of one or more individuals.


Thankfully, most of the behavior that generates toxic conflict is common and predictable. This means that you can plan ahead for behaviors that are certain to recur.

Think of these "Toxic Workplace Behavior Profile" articles as your top-secret files on how to prepare and respond strategically to the most disruptive and toxic behaviors in your workplace.


Code Name: The Diva


Motto: Enough about me, let's talk more about me.


Favorite Song: Shiny - Tamatoa the Crab


Favorite Movie: The Devil Wears Prada


Behavior: Oh, Diva... if the world only recognized how awesome and fabulous you are. Always. Everyday. Right now. You're brilliant. You're charming. You know just what to say and how to say it. You just don't know when to stop.


We typically have a love/hate relationship with the Divas in our life. Like Tamatoa the Crab in the song link above they are, in a word, shiny. And we like shiny things.


Frequently, the Diva is shiny because they have skills and talents that legitimately warrant praise and attention. However, the Diva uses those skills to garner ever more praise and attention – not to serve others per se. This is what sets the Diva apart from your run-of-the-mill attention hog or bore.


The Diva doesn’t just like attention. The Diva needs and craves the attention of the team. The more the better. Their self-worth is dependent on it.

Think of Hollywood. This industry contains some amazing artists. It is also the highest concentration of attention-addicts in the world. The addiction to endless streams of attention even leads some to hope that, because they are good at one thing, perhaps they can be good at everything!


Case Study 1: Sean Penn's new artsy novel. Yikes! Love your acting, but Faulkner you are not, my son.


Case Study 2: A Sylvester Stallone modernist painting, perhaps?


The obvious exception to these artistic abominations is of course, David Hasselhoff – or as his friends call him, the Hoff. After four monumental seasons as the method-acting phenomenon behind the TV-show Knight Rider, he also managed to compose the most impactful musical work of 2006.


As we can see from Sean, Sylvester, and even the Hoff, the Diva doesn't know their limits, when to quit, or how to turn it off.


Divas in the workplace drain creative energy from the team and misuse their real talents for selfish ends.

While they frequently garner admiration, they also breed passivity and dependence as teams become more focused on meeting the Diva's need for praise and attention rather than achieving results.


The good news is that this behavior is also draining for the Diva. It is an enormous amount of work to keep the spotlight on oneself at all times. Even if unconsciously, they spend more time than you can possibly imagine planning and engineering their next attention fix. They also live in fear of the day when the bright lights will go off.


Do Not: Don’t publicly shame the Diva on purpose. I know you want to. You fantasize about it. You dream about it. The Diva is just so full of themselves. If you could just cut them down to size in the next meeting…


But this will go badly. Go snatch a bottle from the hand of a commi