Dealing with snarky co-workers can be a trial. Creatives, who naturally are empathetic, feel the tensions everyone brings into the room. And, if you are an “expressive” creative that tension can be regurgitated back in high decibel tones, where a lighting tree blinks strobes directed at the crowd. Everyone notices. Well, sometimes the creative/diva will not. The expense of one of these tantrums, where otherwise it might be hilarious, is high. So, we all know to train ourselves and the creatives around us to not be a diva, This is fairly obvious. But, what kind of strategy do we teach ourselves or the creatives we lead to employ? What obstacles need conquering?
I must say that often times it is hard to show grace in light of this behavior. I hope that what I share will allow grace to be spread inwardly and to others when drama seems to rule the day. This is different than toleration. It just means that you might prevent your own tantrum from the pain of dealing with the tantrum of others! Just because dealing with creatives is like “herding cats” doesn’t mean some practical tactics are incapable of being learned and taught to others. For sanity’s sake, let’s hope the glass is half full on this one.
Based on my vast experience of mess-ups and in leading other creatives I have come up with a list of four obstacles creatives need to overcome in order to leave being a diva at the door. Often, it is because of being passive that a classic tantrum or attitude then creeps in the situation. Keep this monster out by learning these obstacles and employing the given strategies to beat them.
Unresolved conflict. Two weeks ago your co-worker took credit for your project idea. You met in private with him for weeks on it, but to your surprise the idea is presented in a meeting as his. You hinted your disappointment. And, every time he comes near your office you feel enraged, but pretend to yourself and others that you are fine. Are you?
Communicate your side of the issue clearly. “James, I am not happy with you. We met for three weeks specifically discussing this idea that I had formed and how it could be added to the project yet you presented it without my approval or giving me any credit. This will not “solve” it all. The response back to you could range from begging your forgiveness and a promise to correct to rebuffing you entirely. Either way you vented and stood your ground. It is your view of yourself that matters most.
Unrealistic expectations. You just completed an event and it was amazing. However, there is no break. You saw this coming. But, you felt bad about convincing your boss that timelines would stress you out and perhaps overload you beyond reason. You actually did try three times to talk about it, but your leader is so winsome that he actually convinced you of your incredible talent! In that moment, you were weak and so you signed on for something a bit bigger than you knew you could do and still remain sane.
Find the right time, place and medium to record your view of reality. It may be that your leader needs you to push back, but not in a tantrum of course. Study when is it best to object. Put your view in writing in an email so there is a record and accountability to how you see it. If you live in a reality of unrealistic expectations, you will either need to learn to manage the environment or find a way to leave it.
Unfinished thinking. Organizational leaders and your project manager types want to keep the factory shipping on time. So, endless discussions are abhorrent to them. You, as a creative, need a space to think out loud and process. It might be that in the heat of a meeting you simply cannot verbalize your thoughts on the fly. Or, it may be that your best thinking is in the shower. Unfortunately for you, you give into the pressure to finalize your opinion.
Employ an advisory team. If you are not afforded freedom in the meetings allocated, you have to find a partner, coach, or friend and design a way to complete your thinking. You have a process that might not match the rest of your team but this is what makes you of value. While it would be ideal to change your environment, that is usually not gonna happen. One other simple advice here is to simply communicate that you are either not ready to give an opinion or that if given a set amount of time can present your thoughts later in writing. If your ideas are really good, they will want them–even if late.
Unfettered feedback. When you are the creative on the team, you design the experience. There are many decisions in say putting together a website’s look. Everyone wants input and they gladly give you it like a faucet. You go out for a burrito and a co-worker shares all the things wrong with the mockup of the website. You cannot even drink an iced tea without getting feedback about your very visible work.
Enforce boundaries and INVITE feedback. The surest way to get people to shut up is to invite them to a meeting that specifically asks them for input, records their opinions, and then hold them accountable by having their words cataloged. Over a burrito it is a different voice than the one with a name, date, and time attached to it. This can at least give the opportunity to enjoy carne asada on occasion. Next time at lunch when she brings it up say, “Awesome! I would love your full opinion. So, lets schedule a meeting and I’ll record everything you have to say and take it into consideration. Thanks!.”
In summary, the idea is that when you are less passive and intentionally plan to vent, you avoid the tantrums divas display. You avoid being judged in a harsh way, when in reality your error is in allowing yourself to be overwhelmed. Passivity leads to this every time. Be intentional!