Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #85 Breaking Free from Office Drama: Drama Triangle Insights

June 14, 2024 Jean Balfour Season 2 Episode 85
Ep. #85 Breaking Free from Office Drama: Drama Triangle Insights
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
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Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #85 Breaking Free from Office Drama: Drama Triangle Insights
Jun 14, 2024 Season 2 Episode 85
Jean Balfour

I'd love to hear any questions or comments you have about the show. Send me a message! Jean

In this episode, we dive deep into the complexities of office dynamics and explore the Drama Triangle, a powerful psychological model developed by Dr. Stephen Karpman. Join Jean Balfour as she uncovers the roles of the Villain, Victim, and Hero that often play out in workplace interactions, leading to unproductive and toxic environments.

Jean Balfour shares practical strategies for recognising and disrupting these patterns. Learn how to transform your office culture by promoting healthier communication, fostering accountability, and building a supportive work environment.

Tune in to discover how you can break free from the cycle of drama and create a more positive and collaborative workplace.

Resources: 

Blog on Understanding the Drama Triangle at Work
Check out Conscious Leadership and their work on Drama Triangle 

Experience an Introduction to our Coach Training Programmes with our Free Taster Course: https://courses.baileybalfour.com/course/coach-training-introduction

Sign up to our newsletter to learn more about upcoming programmes: https://baileybalfour.com/subscribe/

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

I'd love to hear any questions or comments you have about the show. Send me a message! Jean

In this episode, we dive deep into the complexities of office dynamics and explore the Drama Triangle, a powerful psychological model developed by Dr. Stephen Karpman. Join Jean Balfour as she uncovers the roles of the Villain, Victim, and Hero that often play out in workplace interactions, leading to unproductive and toxic environments.

Jean Balfour shares practical strategies for recognising and disrupting these patterns. Learn how to transform your office culture by promoting healthier communication, fostering accountability, and building a supportive work environment.

Tune in to discover how you can break free from the cycle of drama and create a more positive and collaborative workplace.

Resources: 

Blog on Understanding the Drama Triangle at Work
Check out Conscious Leadership and their work on Drama Triangle 

Experience an Introduction to our Coach Training Programmes with our Free Taster Course: https://courses.baileybalfour.com/course/coach-training-introduction

Sign up to our newsletter to learn more about upcoming programmes: https://baileybalfour.com/subscribe/

Speaker 1:

You are listening to Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour. Hi, and welcome to Making Sense of Work. When you think about a difficult relationship at work, does it sometimes feel like a drama is being played out, that there are people in different roles, all in different ways contributing to the drama? Maybe you sometimes feel like you're in a drama yourself. It may not feel very easy to own up to, but we all use drama at times as a way of expressing what is going on. We might not do it in a vocal or dramatic way, but certainly drama is happening. I've talked in previous podcasts about the drama triangle and how it impacts us. In this episode, I'd like to bring it to life, to explain how we can work with this tool, this model called the drama triangle, to help us understand some relational difficulties at work or at home, to learn more about our own reactions to situations, and also as a way of understanding others and what might be happening for them. This model is quite visual, and so we have created a blog post on our website to support it, so you can head over there and see it. If that's easier for you, you can go to blogs at baileybalfourcom or you can go to the link in the show notes and it will take you directly there.

Speaker 1:

Before I start, let me paint you a picture. Imagine you're working in a team where the pressure is rising, the business isn't making as much money as it needs and slowly people are beginning to feel like they're struggling. I imagine this is quite familiar. Sarah, the team leader, is being put under a lot of pressure by her line manager Because she's feeling so stressed she starts really pushing the team. She's not taking any excuses from people. She's not letting anyone say no to work. She is pushing and pushing. She doesn't see any way to do this except to make people do more. I mean, how else is she going to keep her boss happy?

Speaker 1:

Meanwhile we've got Saab. He's a new junior member of the team and he is really beginning to struggle. He doesn't fully understand how the job works yet and he's ending up with more and more responsibility because Sarah's passing it on down to him. He is beginning to feel really out of his depth and he finds himself taking work home and he's feeling bad. He starts complaining to his partner about his boss, saying how he feels it's really unfair, and when he's in the office he looks really miserable. In fact, he's thinking about leaving. Meanwhile, his colleague, joe, who's been in the team for quite a long while and knows their boss Sarah well, can see what's happening and he begins to get quite worried about Saab. He starts to talk to Saab and starts taking work from him and doing extra to help him out. Now, of course, this means that Joe's workload is also increasing. He's under pressure from Sarah. Now he's taking Saab's workload on and he feels worse and worse himself. But what else is there to do? He can't stand watching Saab suffer under the pressure from Sarah, and so he's coming in to help. He's coming in to rescue.

Speaker 1:

This short description is an example, at a very simple level, of how the drama triangle plays out, what it is. We've got these three roles, which we'll explain in more depth in this episode. We've got Sarah, who's under pressure and is becoming what we might call a villain or a persecutor, maybe even a bit of a bully. Saab is feeling really hard done by and he's embodying the victim role. And Joe is watching this and he's becoming the hero or the rescuer we use both terms. He's rushing in to rescue Saab. What's key about this is no one is happy, and everyone knows this isn't right, but they're caught in it. They're caught in this drama and not really knowing how to get out.

Speaker 1:

There's a next stage to the drama and that is that after people have been in this drama, in this type of thing, for a while, we get tired of the role that we're playing, we get bored, basically, and we want to move on, and so we can end up switching roles around the same issue. Let me explain this using this case. So in this case, saab is tired of feeling like a victim and he starts accusing his boss, sarah, of being really unfair. So he then becomes the villain himself, he becomes the persecutor. Sarah starts to feel like a victim. She's feeling really stuck and trapped between her boss and her team and doesn't know what to do and really feeling disempowered. And then Joe well, joe is actually still rescuing, trying to smooth the waters between Sarah and Saab, and then Joe finally snaps, has had enough and moves either to victim or to persecutor. So you can see how it goes. The roles aren't fixed. Each is moving around the different roles and a drama is playing out. The rescuer can end up feeling like a victim or going to persecutor and blaming others, and really this can go on and on until someone decides to step out of the drama.

Speaker 1:

And what I'm going to do as we go further into this episode is share with you a bit more about the model, the framework that I'm sharing here the drama triangle and also how we can move out of it. How can we break this pattern? How can we stop the drama? The drama triangle was developed by Stephen Karpman in 1968. And he did it to help us make sense of some relationship patterns or thought patterns that we have with ourselves, and he built this drama triangle to help with that. He based it on the work of Eric Byrne, who created transactional analysis. I'm not going to go into that connection here because it would be too much theory, but there's so much. You can go to Google and there's so much information on both of those there.

Speaker 1:

What he described was that we all play these roles and we play the roles at different times of our lives, and that's both at work and at home. So you might be thinking now I'm never a persecutor, but my own experience is that we have to own up that at times each role becomes real for us. We all at times move into the persecutor role, maybe when we're in a big row with a partner or a loved one, or maybe in a work role. A big row with a partner or a loved one, or maybe in a work role we also have roles that we're most likely to start with. So mine has always been the victim. I can do a really good victim. I can feel hard done by in a flash and I know that it irritates the people around me because they've given me that feedback. But I can also be a very good rescuer and rush in without checking whether the person wants any help, and I know I've been a villain or persecutor at times.

Speaker 1:

We also have these roles in a bigger way. So we have the roles as individuals, but we can also play these roles in a group. If you think about your organization, sometimes the senior leadership team become the persecutors, the employees feel like victims and HR well, hr get pulled into the role of rescuer, trying to fix things desperately. Of course, it can play out at a larger level, even than that. It can play out with countries where we see persecutor countries and victim countries and other countries coming in to rescue. I think and imagine that if you look at it now, you can think about a situation, or a number of situations, where you can see this drama being played out, either in your life, in your organization, maybe your team, maybe in the wider world.

Speaker 1:

To help us understand it more, I'm going to explain each of the three roles, and these will be described on the blog, on the website, and I'll give you examples of how these might play out, either with ourselves or when we're in relationship with others, and describe what the impact is for that, and then I'll talk a bit about what can we do, how can we come out of it. So what we know is that on a good day, when we're relating to ourselves and others well, we're in what we might describe as the adult mode. We're in presence, we are open, we're able to relate and work well, we're able to say yes and no to things, we're able to negotiate influence. We're in a good place. And then something happens to trigger us out of this place, away from being open and responsive, and it takes us towards reacting from an emotional place. Now, of course, it's not that emotions are not good, but it's when we're triggered from our emotions to reactions that we're not happy with, and these reactions are often, but not always, triggering us to respond from kind of past experiences or things that we've kind of embodied or felt. We don't need to understand where those things came from. What we want to understand is where we are in the moment.

Speaker 1:

When this happens, when we're in the drama at work, then as soon as we're triggered out of our best selves, we begin to do things that can lose trust or break trust or we end up behaving in ways that we're triggered out of our best selves, we begin to do things that can lose trust or break trust or we end up behaving in ways that we're not feeling proud of. And for me, that is a key thing. I want to feel proud of how I function at work and, as we saw in our example, the drama triangle is like a dance, so we get caught up in it, we get triggered into it, starting at one point of the triangle and then we often move to another point. We get triggered into it, starting at one point of the triangle and then we often move to another point, and we take people with us and then we move around. So here are the three roles in depth.

Speaker 1:

Let's start with a victim. This can be really simply poor me. We're letting life happen to us and we're not making choices. When we're in the victim, we feel helpless, powerless. We don't want to take responsibility and we really hope others will sort it out. We actually hope someone will come in and rescue us and resolve the situation. In the victim. We're looking for a rescuer.

Speaker 1:

When we're in the victim space, we often feel quite overwhelmed, maybe emotionally overwhelmed, and we don't know how to resolve those feelings. We don't know how to get out of it. We feel paralyzed. In fact, often when we're there we might be saying these kinds of things to ourselves or to others, things like it's not my responsibility or I can't do anything right, like it's not my responsibility or, oh, I can't do anything right, or nobody understands how hard this is for me. Others might say I have no power here, I can't change the situation or I can't control it, it's down to others. So you can hear in the language there that it's very disempowered.

Speaker 1:

Of course, being in this role and in all of the roles has an impact on others and the impact of us being in the victim is that we end up seeking their help and appreciation and rescue and it comes from a really needy place and I know. I've heard feedback that when I'm in this place, it actually can be quite irritating. We can end up being seen as not very competent or not able to manage our work. We can be seen as somebody who's not taking responsibility. The next role I'll describe is the rescuer, sometimes called the hero, sometimes called the martyr, and this is simply said. That's all right, I'll sort it out. I'm here to help.

Speaker 1:

Now you can recognize this and we can see that when we're in the rescuer, we feel strongly that we need to help others and that we want to resolve the situation. This can be a bit tricky because there is, of course, a good side to rescuing. There's a good side to stepping in and helping another person. But if we step in too much, we can end up feeling hard done by ourselves, because we end up feeling overextended and unappreciated. And if we step in without respecting the rights of the other person to maybe not want us to help, then we are really rescuing. We're not doing it with their best wishes. We're doing it because we want to ease some discomfort for us, and that's what we're doing in the rescuer role. We're kind of looking for relief in a situation. We want to stop the situation for other people. We want to rescue them from their pain. We want to make things better and we often do this without really knowing whether this is the right thing for the other person.

Speaker 1:

If you think back to our example, actually leaping in and doing Saab's job wasn't necessarily helpful for Saab. He needed to learn how to speak to Sarah. He needed to negotiate his role for himself. When we're in rescuer, we of course do get the reward. There's a short-term reward of helping others. We feel valued, but then after a while, if we don't take care of ourselves, we end up actually feeling a bit hard done by. So when we're in rescuer mode, we might be saying things like I'm clearly the one who needs to help here. I'm responsible for everything, don't worry, leave it with me. We might say you can't do it without me, or it's down to me to carry others.

Speaker 1:

The impact on others of this role is a bit complicated because in the short term they can often feel very relieved. They can see someone stepping in to help. But it's in the long term that this leads to a problem, because we can be taken for granted as the rescuer and be dependent on and in organizations or at home. We can end up in this kind of role of housekeeper or cleaner of messes. We can be seen as somebody who's going to come in, don't worry, so-and-so will come in and help. We'll end up rescuing. And then we end up resenting that. In fact, we end up feeling unhappy. And of course, there's the other impact which I've mentioned is that by rescuing, we're taking power away from others. We're not helping them to help themselves. So it's a bit of a tricky role because it can suit us. We may want to be needed by others. It may give us the short-term high and the positive impact, but the long-term impact is that actually it can wear us down. Long-term impact is that actually it can wear us down, and so we need to find a genuine place to help people if we want to help people and not a place of taking away their emotional discomfort.

Speaker 1:

The third role is the villain or the persecutor, sometimes described as the bully, and this is where we're saying it's all your fault, it's got nothing to do. We're saying it's all your fault, it's got nothing to do with me, it's all your fault, you need to just get on with it. And when we're in this role, we feel like we know best and that we are superior to the other people. You can see how easy this would be to play out in the hierarchy in an organization. We see that there's often a parent-child dynamic here I'm the parent and I know best. You're the child and you don't know. In this role, we believe that behaving like this will help things to happen, help things to get done. We're here to win and we're under the misguided idea that if we behave like that, things will get sorted.

Speaker 1:

The role is where we're blaming and accusing others and when we're in villain mode, we might be saying things like that person's the weak link or it's your fault, we're in this mess, you clearly can't do this job well, or we have to do it my way, otherwise there's no other way. I'm the one who knows best, I'm the one with the answers, and we can end up blaming others or even blaming ourselves for things that didn't go well. Of course, the impact of this is that others feel belittled, they can feel annoyed and, of course, they feel disempowered, devalued and ultimately demoralized. So we can see that we've got these three roles and there is some suggestion that we're all ultimately trying to get to being the victim, because actually we all want that place of feeling hard done by and hoping someone will come and rescue us. So what can we do about it?

Speaker 1:

It's important to see that it's actually not healthy for us to be on the drama triangle. It's usually unpleasant when we're in it. We're not resolving things in an open, adult way based on presence, based on open communication. We're usually trying to get things done through some pretty tricky emotional stuff that's going on, and so when we notice that we're on it or when we see others on it, what we want to do is to see if we can help them to climb off it and find a different way to relate.

Speaker 1:

My first rule for this, my aim, is to come out of a situation feeling okay about how I behaved. Now, of course, this doesn't always happen, but the same rule applies for me in many situations at work. So when I think about dealing with workplace politics or difficult bosses or colleagues, or in situations where I'm triggered and upset, what I want to think about is will I regret how I behave later? And what I want to do is to think about acting from adult at presence so that I feel like I handled the situation well. And so, in order to come off the drama triangle. Actually, the starting point is me.

Speaker 1:

It's an inside job. Basically, we need to accept that we've somehow climbed onto it and see that if we want things to change, we're going to have to own up to ourselves. Don't always have to say to anybody else, but even owning up to ourselves can give our egos a little nudge and we often don't like to see that. We want to see ourselves as being perfect players and good team members and colleagues and leaders. So it's really hard to own up that we're in the drama and that we are playing those roles, and sometimes it feels easier to stay in the drama than own up to that. But when we're ready, we can name it, own up to it and say, okay, I'm clearly not communicating in a way that's good here or I'm doing things that's not helpful for the team. And then, once we've accepted our part, then we can begin to explore how to move forward. And I think this starts with us moving, as I've said, into kind of present state, one where we're open and honest and where we're willing to act with integrity. And we can do that from each of the roles. There's a way of moving from each of the roles back into adult. So if we're in the victim, we can begin to think okay, I am feeling hard done by here, but what is it that I really want to happen?

Speaker 1:

So in the example that we were talking about earlier, it might be that Saab needed to book an appointment with Sarah and explain that he's actually struggling a bit. He's new in the job, he understands and appreciates the business pressures and he would like to work together with her to find out a solution. So it's about being clear, saying I'm prepared to take responsibility, but actually we need to work this out. It's communicating clearly. If we're in the rescuer, then the first thing is to notice that we're jumping in and then resist, and actually I think the best place to go here is to move to a coaching approach to help resolve the situation. So if we're seeing someone struggling, in this case Saab, I think it would be fine for Joe from the rescuer place to take Saab for coffee and ask him how best he would like to resolve the situation, to have a coaching conversation with him and see if they can find a way forward.

Speaker 1:

The other thing is, if you're often finding yourself in the rescuer place is begin to think about how you can set good boundaries for yourself and how you can notice that you really are jumping in to solve other people's problems. And learn ways. Learn to coach to solve other people's problems. And learn ways. Learn to coach so that you can help them solve their own problems. For the persecutor well, first of all, be kind to yourself. I notice in myself that when I realize I'm in this role, that can quickly be followed by persecuting myself for being in that role. So have some self-compassion, acknowledge it usually comes out of pressure or an emotional trigger and then begin to look for a way forward with kindness to others. So it may be that if you've been there, an apology is the starting place and then work together with people to find a way forward. In the example we're working with, there are business pressures. They're not going to go away, probably. But it's only in working together and not blaming, it's only in finding those solutions collaboratively that actually things might improve.

Speaker 1:

The other thing, from the place of persecutor to get back to presence in adult, is to engage with a bit of empathy about the needs of others and to work in partnership with them about what their needs are. So you can hear that really for all three of the roles, what we're wanting to do is to come back to the present and maybe it's journaling or talking to a friend or a colleague to create a plan to move forward. The aim is always to act from adult, because when we're an adult we're not in the drama. Of course, talking to someone can help, but when you're talking to them, try not to get into the drama and talking about it. It can be really easy to slip into complaining and kind of making a drama. In the way you talk about it you can describe what's going on without being dramatic and then say let's see what's the best thing I can do to help us all to come out of it. If you're witnessing a drama playing out on your team or with your colleagues, you can see if you can help by using a coaching approach. You can invite one person for coffee, ask permission to see if they would like you to help them think about it and then you can coach them to identify what they would like to do to resolve the situation. So there are a number of ways that we can do this. Actually, my own experience is spotting that the drama is playing out is usually the first job and it's the easiest job, and then I can quite quickly work out how to come out of it and how to get back to a good equilibrium, a good open communication. But before I finish the episode, I want to share one other place that dramas can show up and that's within ourselves, and how I think we can approach this with a bit of self compassion. Here's a personal example.

Speaker 1:

I'm writing this podcast on a Sunday morning and I actually quite enjoy Sunday mornings for writing. I'm often I have a lovely view from my desk. I can sit there calmly, quietly, there's no pressure. I enjoy it. But actually this Sunday when I'm writing this, I'm about to go on leave and there's quite a bit of pressure around my to-do list. And so here's what's going on in my head. I always start victim. So I'm like, oh, why do I have to be the one sitting here at my desk writing? It's Sunday, I've got so many other things to do. There's a whole pity party going on in my head and the next role that steps in is my persecutor. And it starts saying to me Jean, if only you'd done more work during the week, then you wouldn't have to do this now. And then my rescuer pops up and says well, if you finish this quickly now, then you can go out for breakfast. In fact, that's exactly what I did, but you can hear that this is also playing out for us internally and learning to notice that can be really helpful, because it doesn't serve us speaking to ourselves in any of those voices. When we treat ourselves with self-compassion from an adult and presence-based voice, then that is good.

Speaker 1:

So I hope I've piqued your interest a little about the drama triangle. As said, we will put the model on the website and there will be brief descriptions of each of the roles and you can go and find material everywhere. There's lots of material in different places. There's also an organization called the Conscious Leadership Group who do a lot of work with the drama triangle and we will put a link to their site. With the Drama Triangle and we will put a link to their site. They have some great videos about it. Their website is consciousis, but otherwise I wish you well playing with the Drama Triangle. Thanks for joining this episode of Making Sense of Work. If you enjoyed it, please go and subscribe, rate and review. If you have a topic you'd like me to explore in the podcast. Please follow the show notes and send me a message.

Understanding the Drama Triangle
Roles in Workplace Drama Triangle
Navigating Workplace Dynamics and Drama