Drama at work is inevitable. Instead of trying to suppress it, learn how to make conflict more constructive. Here's how.
Remember the Karpman Drama Triangle from psychology or management courses? I find that it's still one of the most useful tools to help people quickly identify the unhealthy interactions on a team.
The Drama Triangle consists of three main roles that we each play--Rescuer, Victim, and Persecutor. And we each tend to gravitate to one--maybe two--distinct roles. We learn these primary roles early in life and they become deeply engrained in our interactions.
Alternatively, David Emerald Womeldorff created the Empowerment Dynamic--the roles of Coach, Creator, and Challenger--as an antidote to the insidious dynamics created by the Drama Triangle.
With a little self-awareness, you can shift from unhealthy interactions to ones that are more edifying and productive.
Instead of Rescuer, Be the Coach
The Rescuer is the person who tries to restore equilibrium by protecting others. They create a sense of safety for themselves by taking care of other's needs, which only serves to communicate mistrust in others' capacity to be responsible for themselves.
Rescuers also use caretaking behaviors in order to avoid their own problems and insecurities. It's much easier to help other poor souls than to look at your own problems.
If your default position is that of a rescuer, there is good news! Not all hope is lost.
Instead of rescuing others, try coaching them. Coaches interact not by protecting or enabling others--which creates dependency--but by asking clarifying questions and supporting choices. Coaches also help by providing structure and a roadmap for achieving goals. Coaches don't tell someone what to do or do it for them.
Instead of Victim, Be the Creator
Victims establish safety for themselves by giving in to others' threats. Stuck in a pattern of unworthiness, the victims diminish their needs in order to maintain the equilibrium of the group.
The victim feels perpetually stuck. But they also maintain a position of control by blaming others for their immobility.
If you veer into this role, try being the Creator instead.
The Creator is solution-focused. Instead of problems, they see possibilities. They are able to identify their needs and take responsibility for getting what they want. They feel empowered in their solutions and ready to act!
Instead of Persecutor, Be the Challenger
The persecutor is the person who disrupts equilibrium, usually by provoking or attacking other people. They need to feel in control and accomplish this by force and intimidation.
The Persecutor feels entitled to their afflicting ways. Others are weak. They are strong.
But all this posturing just keeps them guarded and in perpetual self-denial. They use force and threats in order to ward off feeling out of control or unsafe in certain situations.
By using your persecuting energy as a Challenger instead, you can provoke change by calling forth growth in other people. Challengers can be a great gift. They evoke deep emotions, jarring us out of our status quo and into a new way of operating in the world. They ask for clarification, which can push us to get honest with ourselves.
The function of the Drama Triangle is to reassign blame, power, and energy away from the self and to another person. Getting stuck in this dynamic with other people is one of the biggest time sucks we face. Taking personal responsibility is much more efficient.
If you can shift your role toward a healthier version of what you're already doing, you'll save time with more productive interactions and, let's be honest, people will just like you more.
Dr. SHELLEY PREVOST is a mentor and early stage investor at Lamp Post Group--where she hacks into the psychological and emotional side of starting and running a business. She is also a co-founding partner of the JumpFund, an angel fund investing in female-led startups with high growth potential. Shelley also speaks and consults with companies on finding purpose, humanizing work, and growing leaders from the inside out. She blogs about her work at the Glad Lab. @shelleyprevost