Upend the drama triangle

Drama in the workplace is exhausting. And it’s one of the main reasons team initiatives falter.

Work discussions are not just information exchanges. They are social exchanges, in which participants seek social goals, like acceptance, trust, status and power.

Enter in the Drama Triangle — a framework created by psychotherapist Stephen Karpman. This simple tool  can help identify social interaction tensions in our workplace teams and upend them.

It outlines three primary roles team members tend to play — the victim, the persecutor and the rescuer.

Here’s an example: The fundraising coordinator is routing an appeal through the programs team and emails the copy for approval. The program officer who reviews the copy emails back, ” You guys are playing fast and loose with the facts. This copy must be rewritten.”

The fundraising coordinator tells his friend and colleague, the communications coordinator what happened and complains that the appeal won’t launch on time. The communications coordinator says, “That program officer never listens to anyone. You don’t deserve that.”

The fundraising coordinator is playing the role of victim.

The programs officer is playing the role of persecutor.

The communications coordinator is playing the role of rescuer.

And the drama continues.

What if, instead, the fundraising coordinator set up a meeting to review the copy with the program officer with clear rules of engagement (e.g. the program team can make factual changes, but cannot make subjective language changes).

What if instead, the programs officer said, “Why do fundraisers typically use this language? Does it make messages more effective? How and why?”

What if instead, the communications coordinator said, “I’ve worked with that team before and here’s how I was able to make a case for my point of view.”

They’ve upended the drama triangle.

The fundraising coordinator is now playing the role of survivor.

The programs officer is now playing the role of challenger.

The communications coordinator is playing the role of coach.

Check out this 5-minute video that does a great job of breaking this down — fun graphics included.

Then, ask yourself. Which role do I typically play? How can I change the “drama” role to the “empowered” role.

It just might work.