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The Cost of Workplace Drama – by Lee Capps

November 06, 2018 5:18 PM | Deleted user

What’s the cost of drama in the workplace? First of all, what do I mean by drama? Come on, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the pervasive, life-sucking gossip, blame, criticism, overt (or covert) destructive conflict, passive-aggressive guerilla tactics that we’re all too familiar with. Some call it simply “politics” for short. Why does it seem so commonplace when it comes to our organizations? Let’s take a closer look.

In the early ‘70’s, Stephen Karpman developed a model of human dynamics called the Drama Triangle. Evolving from the study of family systems, it portrays how we can get caught in a web of three interlocking roles that feed off and reinforce each other:

  • Victim – “I’m not responsible. There’s nothing I can do about it. Why me?”

  • Persecutor – “You screwed up. It’s your fault. You’re wrong.”

  • Rescuer – “I feel bad for you. Let me fix it. I’ll handle it.”

As you can imagine, these roles are in a constant dance, triggering each other with no apparent way out of the vicious cycles they produce. I know I find myself in the Drama Triangle frequently throughout my day.

These mindsets or roles show up in the workplace – in spades! When we’re under stress or pressure, or at risk – not even physical risk, but just the risk to our ego of being wrong or failing or missing out – we tend to fall into the Drama Triangle. And, the costs are significant: from the daily grind of suppressed ideas, hurt feelings and conflict avoidance to the truly toxic conditions of misguided leadership and cultures of fear. This results in low engagement, increased attrition, and decisions get undermined once the meeting is over – all draining human energy and organizational results.

Two of Conscious Capitalism’s core tenets are Conscious Leadership and Conscious Culture. By “conscious”, we mean leading and working together from conscious choice rather than reactive stress - choice that is informed by our values and commitments. When leaders catch themselves being reactive – fixing and solving from fear for safety or survival – they create the opportunity to be more intentional and aligned with purpose, vision and values. When all team members embrace the norms and commitments that make up the culture, they can work together in ways that forward the organizational direction as well as their own growth and success.

So, how can we shift from reactive drama to more conscious choices?

David Emerald developed an “antidote” to the Drama Triangle called the Empowerment Dynamic. In his fable TED: The Empowerment Dynamic, his main character explores the possibility of breaking free from the vicious cycle of reactivity. He discovers three roles or mindsets that complement, but transform, those in the Drama Triangle:

  • Creator – “How can I be responsible for the outcome? How can I choose to act?”

  • Challenger – “I believe in you, and I know you can do better.”

  • Coach – “What do you see as your options? What do you really want?”

Being aware that we are playing the role of Victim allows us to shift to a Creator mindset. I may initially feel helpless, but how can I take steps to move forward? Similarly, if I reflexively begin to blame (as a Persecutor), how can I stop myself and challenge from a place of commitment (as a Challenger). And, when I step in to fix or handle things (as a Rescuer), how can I act as Coach and support the other person to be responsible and follow-through?

These are critical questions for the Conscious Leader in creating a Conscious Culture. How can I notice my own reactivity and shift to a space of choice and commitment?

Well, guess what? David Emerald will be in Chicago at the end of November, and he’ll share his wisdom with us. This conversation is essential to shifting our leadership and cultures toward greater engagement and results. Join us on November 29th from 6:00-8:30 PM at GEMS World Academy Chicago for a conversation with David as he leads us in an exploration of 3 Vital Questions: Transforming Workplace Drama. Learn more and register here. If you are a CEO, David will also be presenting at our quarterly CEO breakfast on November 30th from 7:30-10:00am. You can learn more and register here.

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