Executive Briefings: Drama in the Workplace

By Thomas White, CEO of C-Suite Network

In my work, I meet business leaders from all over the world who have advice, stories and personal tips to provide. I sit down with these leaders to give them the opportunity to provide current business advice and give a glimpse to their personal stories as a business leader.

I recently interviewed Diedre Koppelman, Founder and CEO of PEAR Core Solutions. Since founding PEAR in 2003, Deidre has worked closely with senior level executives, business owners and organizational teams, providing strategic management counsel and solutions across a variety of industries. Deidre puts her focus into organizational development, leadership development and behavioral analytics for her clients.

Drama has been with us a long time. Drama has been depicted in the arts, movies plots etc. How does a psychiatrist by the name of Steven Karpman illustration depicting drama explain the Drama Triangle?

The Drama Triangle is an inverted triangle with the three corners illustrating the dynamics of drama. Once we can understand what role we play on the triangle, the triangle can provide us with a map on how to get out of the triangle, and basically end the drama. Here is a breakdown of each of the roles:

  • The Victim – The victim’s stance is “Poor me!” The Victim feels victimized, oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed, and seems unable to make decisions, solve problems, take pleasure in life, or achieve insight. The Victim, if not being persecuted, will seek out a Persecutor and also a Rescuer who will save the day but also perpetuate the Victim’s negative feelings.
  • The Rescuer – The rescuer’s line is “Let me help you.” A classic enabler, the Rescuer feels guilty if he/she doesn’t go to the rescue. Yet his/her rescuing has negative effects. It keeps the Victim dependent and gives the Victim permission to fail.
  • The Persecutor – The persecutor insists, “It’s all your fault!” The Persecutor is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid and superior.

We often might see ourselves playing these different roles in different situations. Does this mean these roles are interchangeable?

Yes, these roles are interchangeable. Here is an example of how we go through and interchange these roles. You may be a victim of someone or something so you go to a Rescuer and ask “Please help me, I can’t get this done.” If the Rescuer cannot help the Victim, The Victim will move into the Persecutor or Bully role and will start to bully the Rescuer, who now moves down to being the Victim. The movement on the triangle can happen in minutes. As we keep going around and around, the drama escalates.

Drama is all around us, every day, is there anything we can do to eliminate drama?

There is definitely an antidote to drama — the power of TED. TED is the acronym for “The Empowerment Dynamic” which was formulated by David Emerald. The basic concept is that you are going from an anxiety-based and problem-focused situation, which is drama, to a more passion-based and outcome-focused dynamic, which is the empowerment dynamic.

It is important to know, for those who have control in their organizations, that establishing a zero drama tolerance is really important and that you will not accept drama. To remove drama from the workplace it involves removing one role from the drama triangle. By eliminating the victim, the drama is gone. Here is where “The Empowerment Dynamic” can come into play. The victim can become the creator. They become accountable, confident, and they know that they have choices in any situation and can envision different outcomes. This also applies to the rescuer. When a rescuer is approached by a victim, the rescuer will assume the role of coach, they do not see the victim as a victim, but as someone who is capable and resourceful. They empower the victim to make choices, to come up with solutions, to take action. The antidote for the persecutor is to really spark growth and challenge the victim with the intent to help them grow. By changing every single role, you are ultimately empowering the victim into the role of creator.

Is there an assessment you can use to help identify which role you or your employees are playing?

A good place to start is to set up a workshop on the drama triangle. This will allow for everyone to understand the different roles and to help identify, through self-awareness, when they are in one of these roles. Once you can identify if you are in the triangle, you can identify at any time who is in what role.

If someone comes to you, and they are helpless, they feel powerless, they have no control over a situation, they would be identifying someone who is in the victim role. When this happens, you can understand that they are looking for help, you can then jump into a creator, or coach role and ask them “What do you think we should do?” or “Why don’t you think about it, come back, and let’s discuss it.” You always want to empower someone to be resourceful and to look for the answers, to give them control and the power to get over their situation.

How do you be a good, empathetic listener but also try to be encouraging at the same time?

Once you identify when you are switching from a coach to a rescuer, you will want to be empathetic, want to help, want to listen to the victim. This is where you’ll want to set limits to your listening. If it is something that the victim is complaining about over and over again, then you are just enabling them, and that is not what you want to do. But if the victim comes to you and they have an issue, listen and then automatically switch to the coach role. There is always the balance of listening to what challenges someone is having, and being careful that you are not going to solve that person’s problems. You want to enable them and empower them to come up with solutions and support them.