Category Archives: Transactional Analysis

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.

Read the whole newsletter here.

Are You Walking Your Talk?

What does it take to live up to our ideals?

We all hold certain theories about how people should behave, from our earliest family teachings to the great new technique we learned in a seminar. How fully do we put our theories into practice? It’s easy to see how others are behaving and not necessarily how we are.

We want to believe that we act according to our values. What happens when someone gives us feedback that they don’t experience that from us?

Often, we deny it, or say we didn’t mean it. Or do we take that feedback and really explore what kept us from acting as we believe we should?

Whether we espouse our theories of behavior to others or simply think them to ourselves, it takes effort and attention to get out of automatic responses and be conscious of what we do. Once conscious, it takes practice and sometimes mentorship or coaching to act consistently according to what we believe.

For example, there are plenty of people who don’t think you should speak negatively about someone behind their back. Even so, it’s easy to find instances where we may be venting our feelings and in the process trashing someone else.

Or we think of ourselves as being open and honest, and then find we are holding back information because we fear others’ reactions.

Or we want to be compassionate and then someone steps on our last nerve and we feel justified as we snap their head off.

At that moment, theory holds no sway. We may or may not even be observers of our own behavior. It’s amazing how much we can delete the aspects of what we do that we would not approve of in someone else.

Self-Assessment
Some people have a basic life position in which they feel superior – they see themselves as more likely to be responsible and effective than others.

Some think they do OK – most of the time, meeting their expectations and not being overly critical of themselves or others.

Some people assume they are falling short, and will find evidence to support their self-criticism.

No matter whether we believe in our superiority, adequacy, or inadequacy, the gap between our intentions and our actions may be equally large.

In fact, when we hold ourselves as superior, it may be harder for us to take in feedback that we aren’t living up to expectations. In this life position we may blunder on even more than someone who assumes they always need to do better.

Once we have recognized that it’s a continual process, not a one-time deal, to bring our intentions into practice, we can set up the internal and external support that we need. Then we are walking our talk more than we are in the common state of denial.

Awareness and willingness to take feedback and work on it are more important than having a perfect shining record that we have to defend.

A Space for Learning
To live up to our ideals, we need

permission for ourselves to make mistakes and to be aware of them,
permission for others to give us feedback,
and opportunities to try out new behaviors.

We also need unconditional support, i.e. to remind ourselves that we are OK and not damaged goods that have to be hidden or fixed.

Whatever our life positions (and tendencies to ask for help or not), a coach can accelerate our learning by helping us with that support, permission, and practice. And playfulness as well.

Acceptance without Complacency

A life paradox is that when we accept something in ourselves or others, it’s easier to change than if we continue to resist and criticize.

Thus a kind of moebius-strip thinking is required: we learn new ideas and hold certain values about how to be in the world, spoken aloud or to ourselves. We have to recognize the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

We need to make changes while accepting ourselves as we are.
That last part, accepting ourselves as we are, may be the bridge to walking our talk. It may also be the most challenging.

(Read this issue of the Syntax Messenger here.)

What is Syntax About and What’s On Our Website

Our Premise is that…

our ability to communicate effectively with one other is the most crucial priority in today’s global workplace.

By observing the behavior of successful individuals, teams, and organizations, we recognize habits and behavior patterns that constitute the SYNTAX, or structure, of success.
These are organized into five skill areas in a framework that serves as a common language, an organizational foundation for reaching goals and bridging differences.

The purpose of Syntax is to spread understanding and behavioral skill in the foundations of effective communication in efficient, easily learnable ways. To do this, we offer services and educational products to large and small enterprises and to facilitators, coaches, and consultants.

The sources on which Syntax is based include
Neurolinguistic Programming,
Fernando Flores’ work on conversations and action,
Transactional Analysis,
Appreciative Inquiry,
Human Performance Technology,
and over twenty years of introducing Syntax to professionals in organizations.

Many of our assumptions are explained and demonstrated throughout our website at www.syntx.com. Feel free to browse for yourself, and come back often to catch handy hints and good ideas.

What I love about Transactional Analysis (TA)

For those who came of age after the 70’s, Transactional Analysis is probably not even on the radar screen. TA, known for the widespread memes of ‘I’m OK – You’re OK,’ ‘Inner Child,’ ‘Life Scripts,’ and ‘Games People Play,’ had a profound impact on personal growth, psychotherapy, and even the EST seminars which have morphed over time into Forum and Landmark. TA is one of the Communication Models I was studying when I gave the name Communication Modeling to the profession of learning how to make work and personal relationships successful.

Just today in a life-coaching session I rediscovered what it is that I love so much about TA.

My client wants to design a life in which she will be happy. We talk about what is going on now in her life, including visits to her family, which provide insight also into her past.

With TA language, and the knowledge about how we develop our individual personalities against a backdrop of family and culture, I could speak directly to and about the Child, and the Parent and Adult, that form a whole grownup personality. The profound realizations, the next steps for my client as the resourceful woman she is, the understanding of how things make sense from a Child point of view, open doors to designing that life that she wants to lead.

The issues that block her are very clear and workable from this perspective. She can own complete responsibility for her actions and what she wants while I can provide new information that she did not receive the first time around.

Her grownup self can take care of her child self in such a way that she keeps the best of her early parenting and adds new aspects that give her consistent internal support.

Rather than getting caught up in the stories about the others in her life and how they are treating her, we can work from the center out. She can see the concentric circles of how she recreates old patterns. And she can learn what to do about it.

TA is known for simple, direct language. But it is not simplistic; it is understandable and recognizable to real human beings. It takes a decent amount of training to be good with TA, as with anything. It aims at high ideals, at healthy development, ok-ok relationships, autonomy and interdependence.

Although TA did not get a lasting foothold in academic psych, it is being taught and learned by people and helping professionals around the world. Perhaps the people who establish standards for counseling and psychotherapy – not to mention life coaching -are missing out on a major stepping stone when they overlook TA.

The USA Transactional Analysis association is launching introductory TA trainings around the country, as well as co-sponsoring a conference on Redecision Therapy and TA in November in New Orleans (go to www.redecisionconference.org for more info.).
As a coach, therapist, counselor… or modeler of communication, it’s worth checking out.