Drama in the Workplace

Have you ever thought some of the drama being played out at work could be worthy of an Oscar award? It’s so intense, long running and well-acted.

That is, well, if you’re able to observe it and actually not get entangled up in the drama itself.

Not all of us find it that easy to escape, to be able to sit on the periphery and watch, rather than get caught up. It takes empathy, courage and leadership
The Karpman Drama Triangle or drama cycle as it’s often called is well known in family dynamics, however it plays out quite frequently at work too. Without firm leadership that can rise above it, leaders get caught up in it, often fuelling the fire and being a big part of the problem, not leading the way to find solutions instead.

In short – in the drama cycle, there is usually an Aggressor, a Rescuer and a Victim, and someone (or a group of people ie. a department) might play one or often flip between two roles.

Role of Aggressor – Also known as the Persecutor – “It’s all your fault.” By being controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid, and superior, the aggressor is rewarded by having their own needs for significance, connection, variety and certainty met. They put others down, use aggression rather than constructive conversations to push the point, be heard, noticed or to win a point, situation, arguments etc.

Role of the Victim – their stance is “Poor me!” The Victim feels victimized, oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed, and seems unable to make decisions, solve problems, take pleasure in worklife, or achieve insight. The Victim, if not being persecuted, will seek out an Aggressor and perhaps also a Rescuer who will save the day and likely perpetuate and reinforce the Victim’s negative feelings.

Role of the Rescuer – “Let me help you!” The Rescuer is a classic enabler, feeling 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 reward derived from this Rescuer role is that the focus is taken off of the Rescuer. When he/she focuses their energy on someone else, it enables them to ignore their own anxiety and issues. This Rescuer role is also very pivotal because their actual primary interest may really be an avoidance (conscious or unconscious) of their own problems disguised as concern for the victim’s needs. In working environments, rescuers can exacerbate victimisation behaviours, create complacency, lack of initiative and defense rather than ownership and accountability.

The two critical aspects to understand about the Drama Triangle;

* None of these roles are authentic behaviour. They are learnt survival behaviours. The Drama Triangle is basically a form of role play

* Everyone has at least one role that they feel very comfortable in (though not always consciously), and most of us have one role that we automatically step into in challenging social situations or under default when we’re under pressure.

To move beyond the drama, there are new roles not to play, but to perform.

These may require upskilling in your superpowers to become Creator, Coach and Challenger. These come from a place of empowerment to solve problems and move out of drama, blame and justification. They require great questioning skillset, the ability to listen, to see possibility and choices and to be assertive and confident.

How are your team going with the Oscars?

What sort of drama is playing out and influencing the communication, productivity and high-performance of the team and the business?



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