Someone/Something Did Me Wrong:  Now What?

by Plum Cluverius, MA/ABS, PCC

In March’s Month in Review, Arden coach Dan Brown reframed the distaste for office politics into the need for political savvy in his blog on “The Power of Authenticity.”  That reframe is critical if we are to be successful navigating the real world of organizations—after all, an organization is basically a network of relationships.   If we can’t manage relationships successfully, ultimately we’ll cut short our own success.

But what do we do if where we work is loaded with political drama?  I’ve often heard stories from clients where they’ve felt victimized by an unfair or biased boss, an aggressive and competitive colleague or a manipulative employee. We can also feel victimized by a layoff or leadership shift that leaves us out in the cold.

Dealing effectively with drama, according to David Emerald, author of The Power of TED*, means understanding the drama roles we inadvertently play and how to get past them.  Every workplace drama has a triangle with three roles.  These roles, first identified by Stephen Karpman, are victim, persecutor and rescuer.

In the victim role, we believe something or someone has done us wrong and generally we feel pretty helpless to do anything about it.  When people talk about drama in the workplace, this is generally the role they are experiencing.

Every victim has a persecutor, which is someone or something that is causing the victim pain or harm—the boss, colleague, employee, layoff etc.

The third role in the triangle is the rescuer.  This is the person or thing that rides to the rescue and makes everything right for the victim.  The rescuer can be real or hoped for (if only my boss’ boss would see what a bad manager my boss is), a person or situation, or it can be something that temporarily reduces anxiety like alcohol, drugs, shopping or sleeping.

If we’re feeling like the victim, our instincts are fight, flight, freeze or appease.  None of them exhibit the kind of political savvy we need to navigate the drama.  For David Emerald, the way out is to shift our focus away from the victim mindset to what he calls the creator mindset.


Here are some ways to do that:

  • Accept that you can never control what other people do but you have complete control over your actions. This is where you have a power no one can take away.
  • Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There! by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff. It’s great advice when dealing with workplace drama.  Not reacting to that snarky email (that your boss was copied on) right away and waiting until you’re calm and clear means it will be easier to respond professionally and effectively.
  • Ask yourself what you want  instead of focusing on what you don’t want. Think long term and big picture.  What do you really want for yourself and for your career?  What is a first small step you can take given the current reality to get there?  This is more challenging than it seems.  Most of us are so focused on what we don’t want, it’s difficult to clarify what we do want.  What would we get if the persecutor went away?  Focus on that, and not on the persecutor.
  • Turn the persecutor into a challenger by asking yourself, “what can I learn from this?” Look at the situation as a step in the maturing process.  Think seriously about how this can make you stronger in the long run.  As John Scherer says in Five Questions That Change Everything:if life is our education, our work is the curriculum. Whenever things go wrong, it’s just one more hurdle and not the end of the line.”

Office politics can be a real challenge when we’re in the midst of drama.  When we learn to deal with it effectively by moving from victim to creator, we stand a much better chance of achieving a good result.




For more on overcoming the Dreaded Drama Triangle, talk with Plum today.