Interpersonal conflicts in the workplace are unavoidable. However, when they become a recurring scenario, it is crucial to go to their cause and find a way forward.
Conflict in the workplace can often come down to an interchange call The Drama Triangle.
The drama triangle is a model of social interaction which describes a power game between three personas: Persecutor, Rescuer, Victim. Consciously or unconsciously, we can find ourselves playing one of the three roles depending on the context.
The triangle was first introduced by psychiatrist Stephen Karpman in 1968 and is also known as the Karpman Triangle.
In the workplace, the dram triangle often occurs when roles, reporting relationships and division of tasks are neither clear nor owned by stakeholders. In such circumstances, a sense of confusion steps in.
This goes hand in hand with the emotions that people feel and their unspoken needs of validation, affiliation, security and professional identity. Needs that people may not fully be aware of.
Moreover, we know that separating emotions from the real issue can be a challenge, especially when things are taken personally.
It is at this stage that we risk getting entangled in the Drama Triangle by adopting one of the personas described.
In this article I explore how the triangle shows up in conflicts and and how you can challenge it.
THE THREE PERSONAS
The persecutor is the persona that is perceived as critical and self righteous; the one that keeps the other person down (the victim). The persecutor acts like a “critical parent”, a very strict father/mother who is rigid and controlling.
Such a persona often blames the the victim without giving any solution or guidance and can, at times, turn into a bully by oppressing the victim.
The persecutor thinks “It is all your fault.”
The rescuer is the persona that always feels compelled to rescue the other (the victim) even when he or she deep inside doesn’t want to. The one that is well intentioned but with his love for help keeps the other person constantly dependent.
The rescuer can’t stop thinking “Let me help you” and by doing so neglects his/her own issues.
Here we are talking about the persona that has the tendency to depend on someone else’s support and is often stuck in a codependent relationship. The one that feels helpless, hopeless, powerless and is inevitably seeking and attracting the attention of the Rescuer as well as the Persecutor.
The victim thinks “Poor me”.
EXAMPLE OF DRAMA TRIANGLE
John (Head of Sales): Have you submitted my expense report?
Cathrine (John’s secretary): not yet. I was up until late last night trying to complete the Sales forecast.
John: sigh…I thought we had agreed that my expense report is to be submitted well in advance and before the deadline.
Cathrine: I know…I’m sorry. It’s the third night in row I spend on the Sales forecast.
John: well, when you get your priorities wrong, there’s nothing I can do to help you.
Maria (Sales co-ordinator): how many expense receipts do you have to submit on behalf of John?
Catherine: about 300
Maria: let me take it over from you. It shouldn’t take me long to complete and submit the report.
John: thanks Maria. If it wasn’t for you, I would find myself in caos.
What to do if you ever get tangled in the Drama Triangle?
Transitioning to the Empowerment Triangle is the answer.
In the empowerment Triangle the three roles shift to:
Persecutor to Facilitator: The one that respectfully approaches and treats her as a competent and professional adult without the needs of belittling. The ones that moves from a position of arrogance to the positon of humility.
Rescuer to Coach: the one that waits for the other person to ask for support. The one that asks questions and helps the other party to independently come to a solution. The one that empowers instead of rescuing all and give the opportunity to learn and grow.
Victim to Creator: the one that articulates and clearly explains the situation/issue. The one that owns her feeling of uncertainty and takes responsibility for doing things differently and find a way forward with the help of the coach and the facilitator.
Want to know more about conflicts in the workplace and how to manage them? You can contact me directly for an initial consultation by using the link below:
Karpman, S. (1968). Drama Triangle Script Drama Analysis. Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 7(26), 39-43.