The Prima Donna Syndrome

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 with two individuals that I worked closely with, neither of whom had achieved a substantial level of success or fame, but they were beginning to, and they fell right into what I call the prima donna syndrome.

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 may 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.

The prima donna syndrome is characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance and obsession with status, and an expectation of special treatment. Individuals with this syndrome often believe that they are the most talented, intelligent, and hardworking people in their industry. They demand recognition for their accomplishments, and they expect others to cater to their needs and desires.

Unfortunately, the prima donna syndrome can really 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 may refuse to collaborate with others, believing that they’re the only ones capable of achieving success. They may also become resentful or hostile when they don’t receive the recognition they feel they deserve.

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

Prima Donna Traits

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 people around them. They may become frustrated or angry when things don’t go their way and may 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 may 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 may have difficulty empathizing with others and may dismiss the opinions or feelings of those around them. They may lack the ability to understand or appreciate the perspectives of others and often come across as cold, aloof, or uncaring.
  4. Inability to take feedback: Individuals with prima donna syndrome may become defensive or angry when receiving feedback or criticism. They may view any suggestion for improvement as a personal attack and may be unwilling to acknowledge or address their shortcomings.
  5. Need for attention: Prima donnas often crave attention and may behave in ways that draw attention to themselves. They may seek to be the center of attention or may use attention-seeking behavior 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 may be unwilling to collaborate or work with others. They may belittle or dismiss the contributions of other people and may 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 may 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 may 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.


Helpful Strategies

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 may 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 may 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 may 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.

Sometimes, business networking groups and BNI chapters find themselves with a member who displays prima donna syndrome. I recommend that you use these suggestions on how to work with them, and also how to work with people that you meet in other contexts.

One of my favorite sayings is: Humble people don’t think less of themselves, they just think of themselves less. Well, prima donnas tend to think of themselves a lot. I share this information to help you recognize this behavior and be better equipped to interact with someone displaying these traits.

9 thoughts on “The Prima Donna Syndrome

  1. Great share. Thanks for the suggestions.
    Ego is the mother of most of the ills. Humility is often misunderstood as weakness, but only the truly strong can afford it.
    Fine comment that a Prima Donna fails to see his or her trait. Ego blinds one from seeing itself.

  2. So True. See this in my chapter and it is very disheartening especially when those in charge do not assist in healing a situation

  3. Mais difícil que identificar um individuo com esta síndrome, é conviver, já que o risco de destruir um ambiente de trabalho é avassalador. Então acho mais seguro desengajar, por mais desafiador e estressante que possa ficar. Obrigada pelo tema!

  4. While it’s of great importance for every human being to remain jumble despite obvious exceptional abilities; there are some people who make it their business to pull others down .. masquerading as seeking equality, back at the ranch driven by sheer jealous

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