Kill the Drama
Has this ever happened to you: A team member asks you for 20 minutes and then spends the entire time complaining about another team member, rehearsing all the ways they are not doing their job and making everyone else’s job harder.
What do you do?
A couple of months ago I wrote about the drama triangle and the great costs that can come to us because we—as owners, leaders, and managers in our shops—allow it. I want to pick up that theme again but this time from a different point of view on the triangle.
There are three main roles in any drama: the persecutor, the victim, and the hero. To overcome drama requires first that we re-define these roles and act accordingly. The victim must start to see themselves as creators and in charge of their own destinies not at the mercy of circumstance or needing heroes to rescue them. The hero role needs to be re-defined as a coach. A coach stands with the victim and helps them see themselves in the new light of being a creator.
But what about the persecutor? Is there a positive corollary to being a persecutor? Here’s what David Emerald, the author of The Power of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic, says about this important shift:
“Challenger is the positive antidote to the Persecutor. Whether a person, condition or situation, Challengers call forth learning and growth. When a person, they are often called truth-tellers because they are clear about their values and what they stand for. Some Challengers come into our lives uninvited and unwelcomed. Others—especially those who also embrace TED* – can be conscious and constructive Challengers who come from a learning intent as they challenge others to grow.”
In the example that opened this column, the person coming to me sees himself as a victim and wants me to be the hero. The hero response would be to rush back to the office, ask a couple of other people if this is true and then lay into the guy for not doing his job. Heroess take care of things! And that would provide some temporary relief for sure. But it also sets up a pattern. What happens the next time that team member faces a challenge? And the time after that? And after that? Being a hero gets exhausting!
There is a much harder solution that actually takes longer but has a more lasting effect on the overall culture of the shop. You, as the boss, need to take on the role of challenger and encourage the one who came to you to do the hard work of talking directly to the person he is complaining about. That’s empowering him to solve the issue directly. That’s helping the one who perceives himself as a victim to be a creator. That’s moving him from feeling powerless to having a constructive next step.
This is intended to highlight the biggest differences between a persecutor and a challenger. Persecutors blame and shame others. Challengers provoke learning. Persecutors unload burdens on those around them. Challengers empower others to grow. Persecutors punish. Challengers inspire.
If you find yourself being asked to be the hero for a perceived victim, how might you try on this different role of the challenger? Here are a few ideas I recently learned from a mentor and friend of mine who is an expert challenger (His name is Brian Tome, in case you want to look him up):
- Start with a foundational question like, “You know I want you to grow and become the best person you can be, right?” or, “I can’t make this team all that it needs to be by myself. Are you willing to help me with something here?” Getting agreement and alignment on something core and foundational sets up the conversation to go a positive direction when you make a bigger ask or issue the challenge.
- Keep the challenge short and actionable. This is not the time for a sermon! Challenges need to be stated in a few sentences and be something that the other person can actually do. In the opening example, it was simply, “What would you want if the roles were reversed? You’d likely want him to come to you first and talk about it, right? I’m going to ask you to do just that. I need you to talk to him first one-on-one before I even get involved.”
- Remember, it’s typically not what you say, it’s how you say it. Your tone is important. You can issue a challenge with the same words but if your tone is harsh and demeaning, it will come across as shaming or blaming. This can actually take some practice. If you know you’re going to challenge someone and have time to prepare, do it! You might even consider asking a friend or mentor or spouse to role play it with you if the stakes are really high.
There’s an old Proverb that says, “The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy.” Why is that? In a word: learning! Flattery, whether from a friend or an enemy, doesn’t help us grow. Being the kind of person that can say hard and challenging things to others in a way that is helpful and provokes learning is a rare gift in this world. I challenge you to be one of them.