Category Archives: conflict

How to Get Out of the Drama

We say we don’t want drama in our lives, especially in our interactions at work. Drama usually means unpleasantness, frustration, conflict, lack of productivity.

If it meant “real drama,” i.e. the joy and sadness of life, or dramatic performances that make us feel and reflect, it would be OK. It’s the unnecessary drama, the interpersonal politics, the constant irritants that we don’t want. They take up energy and distract us from getting important things done.

WHY is there drama?

As any team member or manager knows, people tend to play non-productive games in times of stress, when they feel threatened, or when they are bored.

Some people can stir up tension with remarkable regularity. Others fall into drama in response to triggers such as layoffs, new policies, rumors of closings or reorganizations, complaints, and either getting too much direction or too little, either too much feedback or too little.

In other words, workplace drama has plenty of possible material. If asked, most people would say they don’t participate or don’t want to.

We all play games some of the time.

Few people are skillful at recognizing their own hooks that get games started or keep them going. Dr. Eric Berne’s 1962 bestseller, Games People Play, named this phenomenon and began to provide clues to getting out of the drama. His student, Dr. Steve Karpman, contributed the Karpman Drama Triangle, capturing the three main roles of Rescuer, Persecutor, and Victim, which we all play when we engage in games. And yes, we all do engage in games some of the time.

The more hooked we are, the harder it may be to recognize that we are indeed participating. It is helpful in avoiding games to be very open to recognizing how we are hooked and the roles we play out.

Persecutor, Rescuer, and Victim Roles

If we are overtly critical and harsh with others, we are playing the Persecutor role. If we are often going out of our way to fix and solve things for others at our own expense, we are playing the Rescuer. If we keep finding that people let us down and we get the short end of the stick, we know something of the Victim.

As a rule, we do not want to see it when we are hooked, so it can take active investigation to uncover how we are keeping an undesirable situation going. All these roles can come in socially acceptable disguises.

If something’s happening that is non-productive, especially if it seems repetitive, it’s likely that people are playing all the roles; Victim, Rescuer, Persecutor; in some way.

Dissolve the myths

The way out of the drama begins with yourself. You have to dissolve the myths that go with the roles, usually beliefs that diminish your ability to stay positive and get on with it.

· To move out of Persecutor, you might have to see that the other person’s point of view makes some sense too.

· Moving out of Rescuer might mean saying a difficult “No.”

· Whenever you think you are someone else’s Victim, remember how you got here and what choices you are making now.

Almost always, drama conceals feelings and wishes that have not been communicated. Unspoken requests and expectations leave room for people to create their own dramas, feeling judged and thus victimized, or judging others from a persecuting or rescuing perspective.

Clarify requests and agreements

A very good bet for stepping out of the drama and on to whatever is next is to clarify any requests or agreements that you have with the other person. “You agreed to have that report done by today and I haven’t seen anything about it so far. Is it under way?” is a lot better than worrying and glaring, and having the other person spend their time figuring out what you might be upset about.

A genuine tone of clarifying, rather than a disguised Persecutor or Rescuer attitude, will come across as intended. If you step into the other person’s shoes and listen from their standpoint, you can probably tell if you are coming across with a hint of judgment.
This is the hardest and most important part of stopping drama — owning your part of it.

Don’t see your part of it?

When your part is hard to figure out, and the drama is continuing, it is time to ask a friend or a professional for coaching. Someone else’s observations may help you recognize the unintended, unconscious, but still active, ways that you are participating, and help you see new options.

One thing for sure: if you blame the situation or the other person and don’t find new actions for yourself to take, your claim not to want the drama doesn’t hold up.

Once you, and hopefully, the other person, are out of the cycle of drama, it might be worth a good laugh and a reminder not to take anything too seriously.

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How to Break the Communication Barrier

Is there someone with whom you have built up a barrier to communication?

Perhaps you reached an impasse years ago and still work with this person. Perhaps you know what you want to say and do not feel you can say it, or maybe you are not clear at all. For whatever reason, there’s a wall between you.

It’s hard to talk with him or her, and it’s different from the many work relationships where you and others get along fine.

If you would prefer that the wall weren’t there, here are some steps to take.

First, what are your assumptions? We commonly assume that the correct solutions are obvious, the other person’s position is unchangeable, that they are not rational, and that we have no responsibility for the breakdown.

Recognizing and questioning those assumptions can open the door for dialogue.

The next important step is to be careful NOT to jump in and give a good explanation of where you are coming from. Invite a conversation and then listen.

Listening through what the other person has to say may be difficult. Listen without interrupting, and with empathy.

If you find you are not able to listen through, take time to reflect. Maybe take out a piece of paper and write out your thoughts. Speak with a friend or communication coach to sort out what’s in the way and to build the skill of listening well.

If you can do this, there are few barriers to communication that will stand.

Can You Say "And"?

Have you noticed the difference in how people respond when you use the word and instead of but in a sentence?

If you listen to newscasters and politicians, you will frequently hear the word but as if for emphasis. It disrupts the flow of the thought that came before, perhaps to set up an important point in a debate. This may work – though I wouldn’t count on it – if you really are in a debate. If you don’t want a debate, your choice of words can have much more influence than most people realize.

A friend with a couple of kids at home remarked on the huge difference she has found when she catches herself about to say but and changes it to and. For example, when her nine-year-old says he wants to go to a friend’s house at a time they already had plans, she can say, “You want to go to Joe’s house AND we already have plans to go skating.” He gets it right away and is a lot less likely to argue than if she had said the same thing with but in the middle.

I used to wonder if this was just one of those ideas that communication coaches believe in and that don’t have enough effect to make it worth the effort of changing. After years of practicing the A word, and catching instances of But that I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, I can report that it works not just for communication but also (there’s a legit use of but!) for expanding our ability to think about complexity.

When we are in either-or mode, we are less equipped to deal with the blended realities we are sorting through every day. When we are able to handle both-and, we absorb and manage mulitple priorities. We still make decisions, clarify thoughts, and challenge assumptions.

If you baven’t tried it, don’t assume that and and but are pretty much parallel with different meanings. At first you may not hear yourself saying but, AND if you go on a “but diet” (note that I could have said but and didn’t), you will become better at hearing and changing from but to and. AND… maybe you’ll find some unexpected breakthroughs in conversations with yourself as well as others.

I believe that the little mindshift this represents may be a key to getting along better on many levels in a diverse, pluralistic world. Certainly, rigid boundaries cause stress and conflict, which may be avoidable with more flexibility.

Whether you are interested in the bigger worldview or not, try it out for yourself. For a while you may find yourself saying the transitional version, which sounds like “ButAND”. It does smooth out, or it becomes a signal among familiars that we are on the verge of expanding our thinking.

Be wary of the “however” solution – those in the know call that “a but in a tuxedo.” Has the same effect even if it sounds fancy.

You could get a huge payback for a little effort when you decide to go conscious on your use of but and and. Check it out and share what you learn. AND we will be glad to hear about it!