by: Lynda McNutt Foster
Drama kills productivity.
It’s like a slow drip of arson in the workplace. It doesn’t kill things immediately, but over time it can wipe out an entire team. How’s that for some dramatic language?
Drama is defined as a reactive response to a situation that results in the creation of a victim, a persecutor, and a rescuer. The victim feels helpless, powerless and they may feel as though what they want isn’t possible. The persecutor is the one that feels they must win, dominates others to get ahead and knows best what needs to happen. The rescuer must save others from harm, do good, be worthy and feel sorry for the victim.
Whenever you feel that you or someone else is demonstrating one of those roles you are in or are witnessing a Dreaded Drama Triangle™ (DDT). It’s a reactive state of mind that is unlikely to move a situation permanently forwarded. Instead, any relief from the pressure or anxiety will be short-lived and the original problem or obstacle will return.
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize that you are in the DDT because when we are in it, we are usually experiencing at least a low level of anxiety. Our anxiety is telling us that we are right and that what we are doing is rational – whether it actually is or not. If you don’t know you’re doing something, it’s going to be hard to shift out of it.
How to recognize that you are in drama
Anytime you are in the “blame” game by thinking that something is someone else’s fault, or even you are to blame, you are probably in the DDT. If you are feeling self-righteous or jumping in to “save the day” mode, distancing yourself from something you know you need to be handling and are responsible for, giving up, dominating or controlling a person or situation, exerting power over others or shielding others from consequences of their actions you are probably in a DDT.
The DDT can be happening in your own head. We tend to be our own biggest critics (persecutors). An emotional rescue can be manifested with a piece of chocolate or something stronger when you are feeling stressed. How about a moment where you dump all of your problems on a co-worker. Man, that can feel really good until it’s done to you the next day. Inside our minds, we can play out the victim state even when something seemly good comes along. Someone compliments you and instead of simply saying “thank you, that means a lot that you said that” we quickly explain why we are not worthy of that compliment or praise.
Shifting out of drama
There are some exercises that can help you shift to a more empowered state of mind, also know as The Empowerment Dynamic developed by David Emerald in his work, The Power of TED.
- Pause, Breathe, and Store. When you notice that drama is coming or you are heavy in the midst of it, STOP and take a moment to take a few deep breaths. Take note of the situation at hand and STORE it for later when you are in a better state of mind to deal with it. This does not mean putting it forever away in a mental vault you’ve created for all things you don’t want to deal with or have conflict over. It simply means to take out the situation, in your mind, later or the next day when you can focus on it without strong emotions that affect your ability to be fully rational about the situation.
- Label the emotions you are feeling. Labeling the emotion actually moves your mind to focus on it from a less emotional place. Sounds strange, right? Just trying to put the correct label on it can help more clearly define what, exactly, you are feeling and make you pause for a moment or two as you sift through all the names of emotions that are possible for what you are feeling.
- Stand on the balcony. Take a moment to imagine yourself in the balcony watching a play. Rather than being a person IN the play, you are pulling back to watch yourself, on a stage, acting the part in the drama you are experiencing. By seeing the situation from this perspective you may see what’s happening from another person’s point of view or be able to view it in its totality.
- Name 5 red objects. Sounds silly, right? It works to calm a reactive state of mind, though. Look around the room and name 5 red things. In order to distinguish the colors, your brain must calm itself by using your higher level thinking (prefrontal cortex).
- Take a walk outside. Give yourself a moment to gain some distance from the situation. Sometimes when we are in the midst of drama we’re just too close to it to see solutions that are available to us.
An alternative to drama – The Empowerment Dynamic
Once you are out of a reactive state of mind and make the shift to your more proactive state (the prefrontal cortex of your brain) you have the opportunity to develop options for dealing with the situation in a way that will create your desired outcomes.
Rather than a victim that feels helpless, or hopeless, you can begin to feel energized, resilient and inspired which will lead to a more action-oriented mindset where you will take responsibility for your circumstances and take the small steps necessary to learn and grow. You will know that you and others can create desired outcomes.
Instead of being in a persecutor state of mind, which is defensive, on guard and perhaps lashing out at others or yourself (remember, we’re usually our worst persecutors), you will begin to raise your self-awareness, feel confident and become clear in your communication. You will provoke yourself and others to take action and begin to hold yourself and others accountable. You will begin to see yourself and situations as a challenge you can take small steps to make better.
You will begin to see that being a rescuer in situations by fearing not being needed and wanting to save others from harm they have created for themselves does not truly move things forward. Once you begin learning to shift to a more empowered state of mind, you will start to feel true empathy, compassion and be supportive in a non-attached sort of way. You’ll begin to coach others to solve problems with the tools and resources they have available to them and provide positive reinforcement. You will become more of a coach to yourself and others.
What’s one thing you can do to stop drama now?
Realize that it’s our human default system and ask yourself this question:
What am I focusing on right now?
For your team, ask this: What are we focused on right now?
Is what you are focused on something that will lead you to your highest level desired outcomes or goals that will get you there? If not, search to find the drama. It’s there, inside or outside of yourself and commit to making the shift.
5 Ways You Might Be Causing Drama in the Workplace, past article.
The Power of TED – 10-minute video explanation of the principle from the book with Brian Johnson
Interview with the author of The Power of TED, David Emerald.