Escaping the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™: When employees don’t get along

By Plum Cluverius, PCC

Every manager, at one time or another, is faced with the dilemma of two employees who don’t get along and whose conflict threatens the effectiveness of the whole team. When the two can’t seem to work it out, it’s easy for the manager to step in and try to fix things or to get frustrated and punish one or both employees.Arden Executive Coaching | Escaping the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™: When employees don’t get along

Both of those options lead to the DDT, or the Dreaded Drama Triangle.   The Dreaded Drama Triangle is alive and well in many organizations and contributes to much team and organizational dysfunction. It consists of three roles: the victim (who believes they have been wronged and are powerless to do anything about it), the persecutor (the perceived cause of the victim’s woes) and the rescuer (who intervenes on behalf of the victim to save the day).

You can see in the example of the manager and the two warring employees  how easy it is to slip into the triangle. Each employee could easily feel victimized by the other (who is seen as the persecutor by the other person). The manager could get into any of the three roles. She might rescue one or both employees by determining who was right or wrong in the situation, she could end up as persecutor to the one she judged as “the problem” or she could be seen as the persecutor by both if she fails to resolve their conflict for them. If the conflict drags on long enough, the manager could even end up feeling like the victim!

It’s common to feel victimized by a bad boss, a complaining customer, someone’s poor business decision, an impossible deadline or too much work. The list is endless. Once you start down the victim path, you’re into the drama triangle and you’re probably looking for a rescuer—something or someone that can make it better. The problem is that once you’re into the drama triangle, it tends to perpetuate itself in an endless exhausting cycle.

David Emerald, author of The Power of TED, offers a healthy alternative, The Empowerment Dynamic (TED). A victim in the DDT tends to focus on what they don’t want (i.e. complaining, dependent employees). In Emerald’s Empowerment Dynamic, the victim is replaced by a creator, who focuses on what they do want and then takes a series of small steps to get there. This may seem like a small thing but it represents a tremendous shift in orientation.

Our intrepid manager, now a creator, shifts away from the two employees who are her problem and starts thinking about the kind of team she wants, the type of relationships she wants to see in her organization, and the level of problem solving and accountability she wants from all her reports. Thinking about this larger picture could help her move into a coach role. The coach, in the Empowerment Dynamic, asks questions to help others develop clarity about what they want. She could refrain from giving advice to each employee and simply help them think through their goals for a successful resolution and how they might get it.

Our manager may also choose to be a challenger, the third role in the Empowerment Dynamic. As a challenger, she could challenge the assumptions each employee is making about the other. She could help them see the situation from new angles and she could give employees clear consequences while leaving them free to choose their next steps.

The challenger and coach roles are dependent upon a belief that others are resourceful and creative and from a sense of hope and resilience. Persecutors and rescuers, on the other hand, feel anger, frustration or pity.

The Empowerment Dynamic can move us from the endless DDT—whether we are victim, persecutor or rescuer—to a frame of mind that creates greater power and freedom. We choose our next steps from strength rather than reacting out of anger or fear.

Contact us for more information about how Plum might create a more empowering dynamic on your team!