Category Archives: personal growth

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 Coachable?

Good Leaders are Good Learners – Are You?
Oh, sure, I am always open to feedback…
Is it true? Or is it hard to ask for and receive feedback? Even if we know it will have value, learning about ourselves is a risky business.

Coachability is a word that struck me the first time I heard it. It puts the responsibility on the client, not on the coach. I had to ask myself, how coachable am I really?

There’s a huge variation in our learning strategies, especially in the arenas of communication and behavior. In school, we were taught many subjects. Only a fortunate few learned the most important thing: how to learn. Many of us learned instead to perform what was asked of us. As adults, we can revisit our learning strategies. We need to reclaim our ability to be self-directed learners who can also accept coaching from others.

What distinguishes a good learning strategy?
It asks questions such as “How can I apply this?” rather than “Where won’t this work?”

Good learning strategies assume that there is a positive intention behind most behavior rather than assuming that people who disagree must be irrational.

Outstanding learners go after feedback: they want to know more about how others respond to them and what they may be missing. Their strategies include not taking the feedback personally, a rare skill. If you can take it as being useful for you and as much about the person who is giving it as about you, you can glean much insight without umbrage.

A logical / analytical option is to use a tool known as an assessment instrument that yields data about workstyles, communication styles, perceptual biases, and so forth. (See the upcoming events column for a program on assessments happening this week in Silicon Valley).

Many of our non-coachable responses are invisible to us. For instance, when I first taught a Transactional Analysis 101 course, I was supervised by my mentor and dear friend Dr. Jo Lewis. As she gave me feedback, I felt I needed to respond to each item, either justifying what I had done or commenting in some way. When she pointed it out, it was glaring.

I was not very coachable, even though I professed to want the feedback (which, by the way, was very valuable). I don’t know where I learned that pattern, and it was very helpful to become aware and stop doing that. Without someone to coach me into being a better learner, I wonder how long I would have hung onto it.

In our three-day seminars, we observe that some people come in with good learning strategies. Others spend the three days working through resistance and beginning to create new strategies. By the third day, hopefully, they are ready to learn.

What is so threatening about learning, and specifically learning to be better communicators?

First of all, the idea that we need to learn something hints that we are not already totally skillful. If you had a family like mine, you grew up with the expectation that if you were smart, you already knew things. Being a good learner wasn’t valued: being a good performer was. There was no graceful way to navigate the learning process and maintain a polished exterior.

I’ve had the good fortune to be in a career where there are many ways to ask and receive interpersonal feedback. Training as a therapist, trainer, coach, all involve much personal interaction in small and large groups and one-on-one. If you have not engaged in process-oriented learning, it’s something to consider. Many leadership programs have a least some component of this kind of process. This is embedded in Syntax leadership courses, and is more fully developed in coaching and culture change engagements.

In collaboration, someone will always have more expertise than you in one or another aspect of the task you are working on together. If you have a knee-jerk defense or know-it-all reaction, how helpful is that? Somehow, being a smart kid didn’t necessarily equip us for learning from our teammates. Unless we focus on it, we may not even recognize we are creating a less than optimal space for learning.

Learning about our behavior and the choices we have moment-to-moment is as present as air and often as invisible.

Being a learner means being willing to be open about the trials and errors along the way. Learning as a communicator means seeking out coaching from peers, a professional coach, or a mentor. We do NOT know the impact of our behavior without feedback from others.

When a leader is willing to learn openly, and can receive feedback authentically and graciously, he or she is demonstrating true leadership. Role modeling is the most powerful form of permission for others to be open about their learning as well.

Changes drive much of our learning. All of us are learning like crazy these days — the new Facebook and Twitter pages, Go-to-Webinar, your new smartphone–and who knows what other emerging platforms will pull us in next.

Whatever the specific technology, learning to use it so that it enhances mutual understanding is one of the great social learning assignments of our time.

The amazing thing is how much we actually do absorb and utilize from the masses of stimuli out there.

We can expand our ability to learn throughout our lives. They say that people who are too old to learn were probably always too old to learn. Instead, seek out ways to be consciously coachable and lead the way.

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 for more info.).
As a coach, therapist, counselor… or modeler of communication, it’s worth checking out.