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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.