How does drama play out in your workplace, and what does it do to your team’s productivity and satisfaction? In his book The Power of TED, David Emerald talks about the Dreaded Drama Triangle™, a concept borrowed from Dr. Stephen Karpman’s model of three mindsets people commonly adopt to deal with fear and anxiety.
Take a candid survey of your workplace and see if you find any employees who routinely take on the roles of victim, villain, or victor. These personas are personally unfulfilling, but worse, they’re culture-killers. Fortunately, you can lead people stuck in these roles toward a shift in their thinking that will do wonders for them and for your workplace culture. Here’s how:
Transform Victims to Creators
Employees stuck in a victim mindset won’t take personal responsibility for their situation. They might say things like “I don’t know how to do that” or “That’s not my job.” It’s generally good for employees to know their job—what they are and aren’t responsible for. A problem seeps in, though, when a victim uses that job description as a cocoon to isolate themselves from taking ownership for what goes on around them and seizing opportunities to be a difference-maker when unexpected challenges or opportunities inevitably show up.
As a coach, work with victims on accepting responsibility for themselves and their circumstances. Where they’ve drawn a small imaginary circle to constrain what they’re willing to own, help them gradually make that circle bigger. Work with them on identifying areas outside the constraints of their job description that stimulate them and that they’re willing to participate in and, eventually, lead. Focus with them on what they CAN do versus what they CAN’T. The transformation of a victim into a creator is a remarkable and empowering one. Invite those who have successfully made this transition to help mentor others who are stuck in a sense of powerlessness.
Transform Villains to Challengers
The chief trait of employees stuck in the villain role is to attack others and their ideas. They can be aggressive, self-righteous, or manipulative, and you’ll often find them blaming and shaming others. They’ll make sure everyone knows how much work they do, and would like to think they’re made of Teflon™—negative outcomes are always someone else’s fault, and nothing bad ever sticks to them.
Lead employees stuck in the villain mindset make a shift to the constructive role of challenger. Harness their natural inclination toward provocation and show them how to stimulate new ideas in a way that’s respectful, not off-putting. Redirecting their energy to attacking problems and issues instead of people can make all the difference. Provided you’ve created an organizational culture that embraces new struggles instead of living in the comfort zone, challengers can become some of your company’s best assets.
Transform Victors to Coaches
For employees (often managers/leaders) stuck in the victor mindset, the primary tendency is to try to jump in and solve problems for others. They love being the hero in any situation, and attach personal significance to coming to the rescue of other departments/teams/individuals. They like to be the ones to fix things. You’ll hear them say things like “Let me do this for you” or “I’ll take care of it.”
With some redirection, your victors are prime candidates to become coaches in your organization. Like victors, coaches are all about problem-solving. What’s different is that coaches DON’T try to jump in and save the day. Rather, they actively involve others in creating solutions to their own problems. Coaches will say things like “What do you want out of this?” or “What are our options here?” or “What choices can you make to change the outcome?” Theirs is similar to the approach of a Sherpa leading an ascent of Everest: they’ll support climbers in getting where they want to go, but they won’t carry tourists up the mountain. When you develop a team of coaches who can and really want to support others, your job gets that much easier.
Your employees’ individual transformations from drama triangle personas into more productive roles have a major impact on the overall culture of your business. Just consider how deflating it is for the whole team when one or more of its members needs constant prodding just to do their part (victims) or rub everyone the wrong way (villains) or stifle everyone else’s contributions in an effort to be the savior (victors). And these personas are contagious, too—ever notice how complaining, finger-pointing, overreacting, and other negative behaviors can quickly turn into an epidemic?
Fortunately, you can treat this culture-killing malady by leading its primary carriers through transformations into creators, challengers, and coaches. With every converted mindset, you’ll take another step toward dismantling the drama triangle and building in its place a triad of productivity.