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Is Your Employee Guilty of This Toxic Workplace Trait? Here's How to Tell — and How to Deal With It This trait is characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, an obsession with status and an expectation of special treatment.

By Ivan Misner Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Prima donna syndrome is a term used to describe individuals who display excessive egotism, arrogance and self-centeredness in their professional and personal lives. This syndrome can be found in people from all walks of life, but it is often observed in those who have achieved (or think they have achieved) a level of success or fame.

I first recognized this trait in two individuals I worked closely with. The first gentleman was a trainer within the company. He was a good trainer and very entertaining. The problem was his territory was in horrible shape. He acted like a prima donna but performed like a deadbeat. The showman just couldn't show up in results — but he behaved like he was the best in the company. The second person was a co-author of a recently published book. As soon as her name was on the book you'd think she was born a queen. She jumped into the prima donna syndrome with both feet and treated everyone accordingly.

When individuals exhibit these characteristics, they might find it difficult to build and maintain positive relationships, both personally and professionally. The constant need for attention and validation, coupled with a lack of empathy for others, can create feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Related: 'I Instilled Fear in Others:' How This Entrepreneur Confronted His Toxic Traits to Become a Better Communicator

Unfortunately, prima donna syndrome can have devastating effects on an individual's career and personal life. Prima donnas often alienate colleagues and clients with their demanding and entitled behavior. They might refuse to collaborate with others, believing that they are the only ones capable of achieving success. They might also become resentful or hostile when they do not receive the recognition they feel they deserve.

One of the most insidious aspects of prima donna syndrome is that it can be difficult to detect in oneself. Many individuals with this syndrome believe that they are simply ambitious or driven rather than arrogant or entitled. As a result, they might be resistant to feedback or criticism, and they might struggle to form meaningful relationships with others.

Related: These Are the 4 Most Toxic People You'll Find in the Workplace — And How To Handle Them

What are the traits of prima donna syndrome?

Here are some of the traits I've observed relating to this behavior:

  1. Need for control: Individuals with prima donna syndrome often have a strong desire to control situations and the people around them. They might become frustrated or angry when things don't go their way and try to exert their control over others through manipulation, bullying or other tactics.
  2. Sense of entitlement: Prima donnas often have a belief that they are entitled to certain privileges, recognition or treatment that others are not. They might feel that they are above the rules that apply to most or that they deserve special treatment simply because of their position or status.
  3. Lack of empathy: Prima donnas might have difficulty empathizing with others and dismiss the opinions or feelings of those around them. They might lack the ability to understand or appreciate the perspectives of others and come across as cold, aloof or uncaring.
  4. Inability to take feedback: Individuals with prima donna syndrome might become defensive or angry when receiving feedback or criticism. They might view any suggestion for improvement as a personal attack and be unwilling to acknowledge or address their shortcomings.
  5. Need for attention: Prima donnas often crave attention and might behave in ways that draw attention to themselves. They seek to be the center of attention to feel validated or important. This was the case with the co-author I mentioned above.
  6. Poor team player: Individuals with prima donna syndrome might be unwilling to collaborate or work with others. They might belittle or dismiss the contributions of other people and might view themselves as the sole authority on a given topic or task.
  7. One additional trait of individuals with prima donna syndrome is their tendency to think that they are above menial tasks or mundane responsibilities. They believe that these tasks are beneath them and that they should only be focusing on the "important" work. However, this can lead to them being seen as lazy or entitled by their colleagues.

Overall, people with prima donna syndrome exhibit a range of challenging behaviors that can make it difficult to work or interact with them effectively. It is important to recognize these traits and to develop strategies for managing or mitigating their impact on others.

Related: Who's Responsible for a Toxic Workplace? If You Do Any of These 3 Things, Look in the Mirror.

How to deal with prima donna syndrome

Dealing with someone who has prima donna syndrome can be challenging, but here are some strategies that may be helpful:

  1. Establish clear boundaries: It is important to set clear boundaries with individuals who exhibit prima donna behavior. Establish expectations for how you will work together, and communicate these expectations clearly and assertively. Be prepared to enforce consequences if the individual crosses these boundaries.
  2. Stay calm and professional: It is important to remain calm and professional when dealing with prima donnas, even if they become hostile or difficult. Avoid getting drawn into arguments or emotional reactions, as this can escalate the situation and make it harder to resolve.
  3. Focus on facts and solutions: When communicating with someone who has prima donna tendencies, try to focus on facts and solutions rather than emotions. Provide clear, objective feedback and offer suggestions for improvement or compromise.
  4. Seek support: Dealing with someone with prima donna syndrome can be stressful and challenging, so it might be helpful to seek support from colleagues, friends or a mental health professional. Talking through your experiences and feelings with someone else can help you maintain perspective and develop effective coping strategies.
  5. Consider disengaging: In some cases, it might be necessary to disengage from an individual with prima donna syndrome if they are consistently difficult or toxic to work with. If you feel that the individual's behavior is impacting your well-being or the well-being of others, it might be time to consider ending the relationship or seeking other professional or personal opportunities.

The behavior of individuals with this syndrome can lead to low morale, high turnover and strained relationships with colleagues or clients. The earlier you recognize it and the sooner you address it, the stronger your organization will be.

Related: How To Spot Toxic Behavior—Be It By You, Or By A Colleague—In The Workplace

Ivan Misner

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Bestselling Author

Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author and co-author of the bestselling book, Networking Like a Pro (Entrepreneur Press 2017). He is also the founder and chief visionary officer of BNI, the world's largest referral marketing and networking organization.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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