Is Your Team One Big Drama Triangle?

Is there a lot of drama in your office?
Say someone on your team is really annoyed.  They have been wronged.

They were asked by a person in another department to do something that isn’t their job. This has happened before.  That person’s plea is always accompanied by reasons they can’t do it themselves: they don’t have time, the client suggested it, their boss has something else for them to work on.

Your staff member walks up to your desk steaming.  They explain their frustration, and plead with you to talk to the other department manager and clear this up.  They’ve had it, they’re stressed with their own work, this can’t go on…

And suddenly you’re involved
You pick up the mantle.  You don’t want to have this conversation, you know it will end in a “he said/she said” circular discussion.

But you have got the manager’s title, so you take a deep breath, march over and ask for a quick word.

The other manager isn’t helpful. He doesn’t see it as a big deal, it doesn’t happen often, your staff are faster at it, can they just do it this time…

Now you are annoyed.  You launch back with an attack on how disorganized his staff are, they never have things ready on time and consequently can’t manage their own responsibilities – you’re fed up with his lack of supervision.  You are now in full rant mode and looking for ammunition.

You are stuck in the drama triangle.

The Drama Triangle
The Drama Triangle was conceived by Steven Karpman to look at power, responsibility and boundaries.

It works with the idea that we hold these positions initially but as we take action our roles switch to another point in the triangle.

Persecutor                                      Rescuer



How the triangle works
The Persecutor starts off.  They are acting in their own interest, they want something and they don’t really care how it impacts anyone else.  They may down play their own power and not think about the Victim at all.

The Victim sees the point of pain being thrust on them by the Persecutor.  They decide, rather than dealing with it, they’ll ask someone else to help them fight this battle. They may believe they can’t do the thinking or solve this problem for themselves.

The Rescuer, feeling very concerned for the victim, takes over.  They agree to solve the problem, they take control even when they don’t want to.  They get more involved than they would like and head off to do battle with the Persecutor.  They may believe the Victim can’t solve his own problems.

Then the roles shift
The Rescuer, who is now having a rant at the other manager – has become the Persecutor!  The other manager may feel like the Victim and may even recruit someone else to rescue him.

The drama triangle is at the heart of every good soap opera and the basis of a lot of television drama.  The roles switch before our eyes with people moving from Victim to Persecutor or Rescuer to Victim with each new bit of information.

While it makes entertaining TV, it isn’t that comfortable in the office – so how do you draw a halt to it?

Changing the pattern
If you are a manager in Rescue mode, the first thing to do is acknowledge to yourself and your staff/victim that they have the ability to solve this themselves.

Let them know you are concerned by listening to them. Encourage them to talk it though with you and don’t take over.

Help them think about what the problem really is and what impact it will have.

Then coach them.  Encourage them to think about the ways they might address this problem (this doesn’t include you doing it for them.)

Ask them what they’d really, really like to say. Then ask them how they might say that in a professional way that would make their point without turning them into the Persecutor.

Help them think about the best possible scenario and what that outcome could be.  We naturally think of the worst case and that gets our adrenalin flowing – preparing us for fight or flight.

Resetting their imagination on what would be a good result from the discussion, helps manage that adrenalin, changes their expectation and helps them feel calmer.

Get them thinking about how to approach the problem in an Adult to Adult state of mind.  Often as Victims we relinquish our own authority and feel like the child in the situation.

In the long run…
Get them thinking about the bigger picture.  If they deal with it themselves and resolve the problem, how will they feel; in control, professional?

If they deal with it this time, what is the likelihood that they can prevent it from occurring again?

When they’ve worked out the approach they want to take, and can picture the best result they can expect, give them a dose of encouragement.

It’s amazing how telling someone they can do it, that they have the ability to solve it, goes a long way toward bolstering their confidence.

And you’re off the Drama Triangle.

You’ve got a confident, considered staff member who is going to deal with his own battle, in a considered, professional way.  How great is that?


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