We love our drama. Ancient Romans loved the tension and spectacle of the Colosseum with its combat to the death involving gladiators and beasts, nail-biting chariot races, and extravagant displays of sea warfare. Today, we have the tension and spectacle of reality TV, involving the emotional combat of one-up-man-ship, betrayal, and dashed hopes. It seems a natural aspect of the human condition. It’s no wonder, then, that drama comes naturally to your employees.
You know employees are caught up in drama when they aren’t focused on the overall goals your company is working to achieve. Instead, they hone in on what others are doing or not doing to bug them or to get in their way. In short, they are focused on the weeds instead of on the big picture. They delight in gossip, complaining, blaming, shaming, and explaining – mostly after not being forthcoming when the time was right, such as in meetings regarding the work and its progress.
“All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”
― Seán O’Casey
Drama includes people who find themselves playing three standard roles: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. These were identified by Dr. Stephen Karpman in the 1960s. In spite of their good intentions, a person in the Victim role sees himself as powerless and put-upon; a person in Persecutor role sees himself as the only person doing things right, coming across as blaming and overbearing; and a person in the Rescuer role believes he must save the Victim who is not capable of doing so himself. Together, people in these roles can go for years, blaming each other and focusing on what each is doing wrong, instead of looking at their own contributions to the dramatics that play out.
According to David Emerald, the transformation from spectacle to productivity occurs when (1) the “Victim” refocuses on the general outcome they want to create and determine a way forward; (2) the “Rescuer” reframes the “Victim” as capable of solving his own problems; or (3) the “Persecutor” clarifies his intentions and shifts to supporting the “Victim’s” capabilities.
As a leader in your company, it’s up to you to create the conditions that discourage drama as a spectacle of complaining and blaming and, instead, encourage trust, ownership, and choice that leads to working together more productively without fear. This requires many things including the expectation that people will feel the trust required to be open and explore issues through deeper conversations that center around questions for which you don’t know the answer. (Judith Glaser would call these Level III Co-Creative conversations. See Lead Like Nobody’s Business blog and podcast with Julio Garreaud from 6/7/2016.)
Questions that could be part of these types of deeper conversations might include:
- How do you see it?
- What are the implications of what we are doing with respect to X?
- What have we been assuming that might not be accurate?
- How can we . . . ?
- What if . . . ?
- What might you do to achieve your original intention?
Think about how frequently these questions are used in your meetings and interactions . . . . Imagine what could happen for your company if you intentionally opened up some room for your employees to explore together possibilities for their work instead of allowing them to stay stuck in their own myopic, dramatic role.