Have you ever found yourself in a confounding pattern of behavior with other team members or some of your partners? It’s possible, and even likely, you are or were involved in the “Drama Triangle.” The Drama Triangle is not a new concept. It was first brought to light as a behavioral pattern by Dr. Stephen Karpman about forty years ago, but its relevance has not diminished over time. There are three distinct roles in any Drama Triangle: the Persecutor, the Rescuer and the Victim. (See diagram).
Some of the characteristics and/or behaviors of each role are as follows:
- Overly critical, controlling, authoritative, angry
- Oppression through threats/bullying
- Tend to be fairly inflexible
- “Let me help you”
- Caretakers while neglecting their own needs
- Focus is on creating dependency and enabling behaviors (not intentionally)
- They feel guilty if they aren’t rescuing someone
- Frequently harried, overworked, martyr-style
- Feeling helpless, hopeless, powerless, and dejected
- No responsibility for their circumstances or no power to change their circumstances
- Looking for a rescuer to save them
- Difficulty making decisions, solving problems, or finding pleasure in life
Victims look for a rescuer/savior, rescuers yearn for a basket case, and persecutors are looking for a scapegoat.
So now that you’ve identified that you’re part of a Drama Triangle or that your team member is involved in one, how do you find your way out of it? How do you help your team find their way out? It’s important that you first identify the roles being played. Who is the Persecutor, the Rescuer, or the Victim in this scenario?
The first step to get out of this behavioral pattern is to identify the Victim and help them become the Creator. Where a Victim feels powerless to change their circumstances and relies on a Rescuer, a Creator creates solutions to their problems. They view bullies as a challenge or an opportunity.
Victim to Creator
So how do you turn a Victim into a Creator? Coach and encourage the victim to become empowered. Have them view their circumstance as a problem to solve or an opportunity to look at the problem and challenges differently, instead of something outside of their control. Help them identify the issue, and challenge them to provide potential solutions. “I cannot” in this situation becomes “What can I do differently?” They own these potential solutions. Set clear goals, and commit to taking action while seeking feedback.
Rescuer to Coach
Moving from Rescuer to Coach also requires shifting your way of thinking. Instead of solving the Victim’s problems for them, they need to coach the Victim to be a Creator of their own solution. Think “how can I empower the former Victim?” instead of “How can I fix their problem?”. It is their challenge, not yours. Use the power of insightful questions to place accountability where it belongs. For example, ask, “What worked? What didn’t? What could the Creator do differently next time?”
Persecutor to Challenger
Changing the Persecutor into the Challenger role requires seeking to understand first, then to be understood. The Challenger chooses to recognize the efforts and accomplishments of others, instead of being overly critical or oppressive. They celebrate and acknowledge wins. Tell the Creator what specific result you want to achieve. Be honest and don’t ignore missteps.
I would love to tell you that changing from Victim to Creator, Persecutor to Challenger, and Rescuer to Coach is easy, but it isn’t. However, recognition of the behavioral pattern and the role you or a colleague are playing is a very useful first step. Identifying the Victim is key to unleashing the energy you or others have been wasting stuck in the Drama Triangle.
If you want to learn more about this behavioral model, take a look at the book, Say Goodbye to Drama: How to Obliterate Drama from the Playground to the Boardroom, by Deidra Koppelman and Jonathan Gassman.
Are you working to build a culture of teamwork, quality and consistency that will strengthen your firm’s brand? Rainmaker’s Five Star Client Service Program focuses on a firm’s people and processes, teaching the concept that excellent external client service starts with practicing excellent internal client service. Contact Us for a complimentary phone consultation to discuss your firm’s culture and organizational development goals.