How much do you experience a drama triangle in your business? When we talk to leaders about the key challenges in their business culture, there is one commonality that comes up time and time again – workplace drama.
Unfortunately increased levels of drama in your business is more than just a leadership headache – it directly impacts your bottom line. The more your team gossip, or engage in drama, the less they are focussed on your customers and their performance. Drama takes time and that’s time you’re paying for which isn’t being spent doing anything to positively impact your bottom line.
In some businesses drama is obvious, in others it is less obvious, but most certainly still there. In less obvious situations, leaders simply swoop in and save the day consistently – although masked as a positive – this is still creating drama by not enabling others in your team to help themselves.
A great way to gauge how much drama you have in your business is to look at how often triangulation occurs. Triangulation is when two people don’t speak directly to each other but use and rely on others to share concerns or solve problems – this often produces gossip, rumours, inefficiency and destructive behaviours.
Karpman’s Drama Triangle
In our leadership training we explore Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle which perfectly describes situations in which triangulation appears. There are three destructive roles in the Drama triangle:
- The Hero – the hero plays the rescuer role and swoops in to save the day. This is the less obvious of the three roles, and is often played by leaders without even realising they are doing it. This role is destructive as it often creates temporary relief without facing the core issue, which causes issues to resurface and remain unsolved at the core. The hero ultimately doesn’t want others or themselves to feel bad and they often seek their value by being needed by others.
- The Villain – the villain’s job is to blame, either themselves or others. This often drives a lack of ownership and results in complaining & defensiveness which often keeps people playing this role stuck as they don’t ever address the challenge at it’s core. When others are selecting a villain during drama, it can be a person, the business, or a situation.
- The Victim – the victim just let’s whatever is happening, happen to them. When a person is in the victim role they feel powerless, and don’t take personal responsibility for creating their own outcomes.
As an example of how the system of drama triangulation begins: Someone in victim mode, approaches a hero with information about what a villain has done to them. From there, drama can unfold in a number of ways. The hero feels compassion for the victim and calls in other alleged victims for verification and conversation about the situation, they may confront the villain on the victims behalf, or look at ways to protect the victim from this situation in the future. All of these take up a lot of organisational time and energy – and none of them solve the real problem – they don’t enable the victim to help themselves.
The situation may not even be over here – the roles may switch, the villain may feel unfairly blamed by others, or that it is unfair for the hero to be supporting only the victim – they then move into a victim mode themselves and the cycle starts again. In the drama triangle the roles aren’t fixed and people move between them in any given situation. The key is to not engage in the drama triangulation in the first place – it is not only a culture killer but brings organisational productivity to a standstill.
We see these drama triangles occur everywhere, and they are never useful. Think through which role you play the most, and where others in your team default to.
Whenever you spot either yourself, or others you work with cast in a drama triangle role, look at what needs to happen to remove that triangulation. If someone has an issue with someone else, encourage them to talk directly to that person to resolve directly, versus creating a triangle through you.
The Empowerment Dynamic
There is an antidote to the Drama Triangle and that is the Empowerment Dynamic – otherwise known as TED – devised by David Emerald.
The model enables the drama triangle roles to elevate into empowerment roles that drive a mindset shift in order to remove triangulation and open up greater options and outcomes. By elevating out of the drama triangle roles, you and your team can take control of your responses, removing drama, and driving higher levels of success.
- The Hero becomes the Coach – the coach role doesn’t try and rescue or save anyone, they remove themselves from the triangle and instead coach the person on the sidelines to help them solve their own challenges. They don’t try to fix anyone. They support, assist and facilitate clarity by asking questions.
- The Villain becomes the Challenger – the villain changes role and instead of being in a place of blaming or criticising, they bring a healthy pressure to themselves or others, to challenge new ways of thinking and drive positive outcomes. They remove triangulation as they apply healthy pressure to a one on one situation so there is no need for anyone to swoop in and play the hero.
- The Victim becomes the Creator – the victim changes role into the creator where they take responsibility for their lives and stop complaining about what is happening to them. The creator owns the power to choose and respond and focuses on outcomes.
What practical techniques can you put in place to eliminate drama and operate from an empowerment role as a leader? It’s tempting to play victim, villain, and hero at times, but leaders need to encourage and practice direct conversation and get out of playing any of these roles. The hero role is often the most tempting as it can solve short term pain, and even feed one’s ego, but it’s important to remember that these roles will lead to divisiveness and much larger long term problems. Below are some ways to stay elevated out of the drama triangle:
- Refuse to play the hero – if a team member approaches you about a situation involving another person, be cautious to avoid triangulation, by involving yourself and potentially rescuing them when they don’t need it – simply ask if they have already spoken one on one to the other person? You may need to play coach to help them think through the most conducive way to do this, but the important thing is to not go and speak on their behalf.
- Facilitate a conversation – If the conversation is more complicated, or the victim feels really uncomfortable, offering to facilitate a meeting can be useful. The key here is to make sure to stay in the facilitator role, asking questions of both parties. Do not pass judgement or take sides otherwise this will start the drama triangle off again.
- Use “best intentions” – If you are working with someone in either victim or villain mode, emotions will be high, a great technique to use to help someone diffuse this is to ask them what they think the other person’s best intentions could have been in that situation.
- Stay focussed on “short term pain for long term gain” – Moving out of the drama triangle will feel more painful in the short term as it will take time to teach someone how to do something instead of doing it for them, or coaching them through a conversation or situation – but long term you will see the benefits of these individuals feeling more empowered and performing at a higher level because of it.
Eliminating Drama Triangles from your organisation is one of the most effective ways to build an inclusive, collaborative culture where people passionately debate ideas, without undermining each other. It creates a great place to work, and one that will attract and retain the very best people, whilst also netting significant performance and bottom line increases. The drama triangle is something we cover within our leadership and management training, and within our online resilience training. For a short overview of this learn we put together this useful video.