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Making change happen – creating happier work by Sarah Ramsden

I re-visited the drama triangle this week when developing content for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion colleagues to help with how to influence a more inclusive world of work. It got me thinking of so many work scenarios that this could help us with.  

What is the drama triangle?

The Drama Triangle, a practical interpretation of transactional analysis developed by Stephen Karpman, that demonstrates how we can be less than amazing versions of ourselves. When this happens, Karpman says, we’re bouncing around between three archetypal roles — Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer — each one as unhelpful and dysfunctional as the other.

We are likely to have all been in each of these roles at some point in time and to think of people we are working with now who display these behaviours. I admit I see myself falling into the rescuer role.

What action can we take?

  1. Notice the drama triangle – once we notice how we are feeling and the behaviours we are seeing we can understand what may have caused the situation and take action to break it.
  2. Listen – truly listen to understand instead of jumping in with questions and providing solutions that work for us. Hold back and ask curious open questions based on what you have heard.
  3. Ask ‘how can I help?’ – instead of jumping in with solutions and avoid falling into the ‘rescuer’ role. I remember a difficult conversation where I jumped in with ‘what is the problem you are looking to solve’ and a frustrated guarded response back ‘I don’t have a problem’. Instead ‘how can I help?’ or ‘what do you need from me?’ is a direct and clear question that really helps the other person think openly about what they do need and your role in that. It allows others to grow and prevents you picking it all up and doing it for them – ‘rescuing’.
  4. Provide clarity – drama thrives on vagueness. Asking open questions to ensure clarity and a shared understanding such as ‘help me understand…’ ‘out of curiosity’ ‘to make sure I am clear’. This is prevalent when working with people who are different to you – the way they see the world is likely to be different to how you see it and experience it and the solutions that work for you, may not be the best ones to work for them. It also helps the other person see things clearly and change their behaviours – maybe you notice an emotive response such as ‘I always fail’ and by asking ‘always fail – how true is that?’ can provide truthful clarity of thoughts, dispel self-limiting beliefs and build confidence.
  5. Ask ‘and what else?’ – this is a powerful coaching question that can open up unsurfaced situations or barriers that may not have been shared with you before – taking the conversation to a more meaningful level. Especially when your conversation may have built higher levels of psychological safety and the person feels more comfortable and able to share this with you. It can help prevent you giving solutions and advice – going into ‘rescuer’ mode and gives you both time to explore what actions really need to be taken without falling back into Victim, Persecutor or Rescuer roles.

Let’s try these actions, experiment, and help create happier work for us all.


About the author-

Sarah Ramsden, Head Of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Content, The Clear Company

Sarah holds 20+ years HR experience at a strategic level working with boards and senior executive teams in the UK’s leading global STEM companies.  Specialising in Leadership Development, Sarah has proven results in improving Inclusive Leadership Capability, Inclusive Culture Behavioural Change, Employee Engagement and Diverse Senior Leadership.

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