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Workplace Drama Hampers Productivity
By: Marlene Chism

No time? Power struggles? Office Gossip? Lack of team work? Every business has a fair amount of drama. To some degree we can blame it on all the technological advances which were created to save time or make life convenient, however research suggests that the advances in technology only create higher demands not life balance. No one seems to have enough time and everyone is stressed to the limit. The pressure most of us feel in our daily lives manifests in fights with co-workers, cranky bosses, illness and nit-picking and increased stress levels instead of teamwork and productivity. An easy word to define it is "drama."

Drama prevents you from being all that you can be, hampers productivity, drains your energy and takes you out of your power. Drama keeps you stirred up, immobilized, upset, unhappy and otherwise dysfunctional. Drama can be detected in your emotions, your beliefs, your patterns, your language, your assumptions, your guilt, your judgments your worry, and your behaviors. However the patterns are most evident in relationships, whether that relationship is with a boss, a co-worker, your children or your spouse.

In 1968 Dr Stephen Karpman, an award winning and highly respected psychiatrist, known for his contributions to transactional analysis, developed a concept that has helped people across the globe identify the drama and eliminate the destructive patterns that hamper productivity and damage relationships. The concept is known as the Karpman Drama Triangle.

Dr Karpman’s Drama Triangle is one model that I use in my workshops to help people to “stop the drama” so that they can reach their potential and build rewarding relationships. The average person can use this tool quite effectively in assessing and understanding their own interpersonal relationship challenges, regardless of whether the challenges pertain personally or professionally.

Simplified Snapshot:

On the Drama Triangle, there are three major roles that people play: Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim. The diagram as Dr. Karpman originally developed it is an equilateral upside down triangle. The victim is at the bottom point. That is because the Persecutor and the Rescuer are in the one-up position. The Victim feels helpless, the Rescuer has the answer and the Persecutor tells you whose fault it is. The behaviors and patterns evident in the victim are depression, fear neediness, low self-esteem and looking to others for answers. The Rescuer exhibits controlling tendencies, giving unwanted advice, overextending, worrying, taking on other people’s problems and trying to be the hero. The persecutor shows up in various forms: finger pointing, faultfinding, angry outbursts, lack of compassion, perfectionism, and judging others.

Drama might help you to get what you want at the present moment, but drama eventually keeps you from getting what you deserve. For example you want to sit on the couch, eat junk food, smoke cigarettes, and watch TV. What you deserve is to enjoy your health, find your purpose, share your talents to the world, and enjoy mutually rewarding relationships. What you want is a job, or more money, or prestige. What you deserve is to work with a company that incorporates your talents, intelligence and gifts, so that you can live a life of purpose.

Here’s an example of how the roles could show up in the business world: The boss is viewed as the persecutor because he or she keeps piling work on the assistant with seemingly no consideration of the assistant’s life. When someone advises the assistant simply talk to the boss about the workload, the assistant says, “I’ve tried and it before and I got nowhere!” Or “The boss doesn’t care about my life, the only thing that matters is the productivity.”

If you have been following along, you know who is playing the victim: the assistant. However, if the assistant complains about the boss to the Human Resources Manager, the HR manager now feels the pressure of the Rescue role, to make things better. Perhaps upon reading this you have noticed that when the assistant goes to the office to complain, the assistant has effectively become the persecutor and now the boss is the potential Victim.

What’s fun about using this model in workshops is to see how people view themselves in relationship to everyone else. For example many business owners and CEO’s can readily identify the patterns of their employees, and so often they see victim or persecutor behavior. More often than not I hear employees identify their boss as a Persecutor. At the same time most people have difficulty identifying the roles they play.

There are two eye-openers for most people. First, if you are in the midst of turmoil, drama, stress, or you are otherwise having relationship problems you are on the Drama Triangle. Secondly, if you are patting yourself on the back thinking that you are the Rescuer, think again. Dr. Karpman’s theory states that if you play one role, you eventually play them all. But here is the biggest eye opener of all. If you are in the midst of interpersonal challenges and you still can’t identify your part, then you are in the middle of the triangle, and that is called denial. Next month, we will talk about the role of Denial and how denial adds to the problems.

About Marlene Chism

Marlene Chism, M.A. is a relationship development expert and founder of Attitude Builders Toolbox, a monthly resource for managers and leaders. To see more go to Or to interview Marlene call 1. 888.434.9085

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