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Caldwell: Break free from the drama trap

Published: Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

Every organization strives for a productive, healthy and energetic work force, but sometimes your valuable employees fall into the drama trap. 

The drama trap can ensnare even the shrewdest and most focused of us. It plays out like a daytime soap opera with people in the trap playing the victim, rescuer or authoritarian roles, especially during times of change or conflict.

In the drama trap, the victim portrays the “poor me” role who is always innocent and powerless to make decisions or be heard. They complain to others about their sad situation and inability to change anything. Their overriding attitude is, “Why me?” 

The rescuer is the people pleaser. They are the people who consistently agree to do extra work and get a temporary feeling of being helpful and useful. They often end up feeling like a victim because they are unappreciated for everything they do.

The authoritarian constantly judges others and acts like a critical parent. They get to be self-righteous while avoiding responsibility for their own performance.

For the players, these roles are lifelong patterns and attitudes that are familiar and hard to give up. All of the players subconsciously or consciously enjoy the entertainment of drama trap because they all get to win at the games they are playing, whether it is to make others wrong or make themselves right. They get to stir up the drama, instigate conflict and ultimately avoid taking responsibility for themselves and their behavior. It is much easier to blame others than take ownership and create a positive and productive environment.

Unfortunately, the stakes in this game are very high. Gallup research shows that employee disengagement and dissatisfaction is costing the U.S. an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually. The impact of employee resignation, chronic complaining, gossiping and a lack of accountability are tremendous. This type of organizational drama acts like a virus and can spread throughout your business. Before long, everyone is infected. Wrapped up in the drama trap, this dysfunctional condition becomes your norm and an entrenched part of your culture.

Lest you think that this is all psycho babble and that you, your leadership team and employees will never get into the trap, think again. Ask yourself, “How many times in the past year have I/we had a gripe session about an employee, customer, colleague or issue without a positive, actionable outcome?” If the answer is more than once, you are in the drama trap. 

How do you get out of the drama trap?

• Recognize that there is in fact a trap and you are in it. Take an honest inventory of what is happening, who is involved and identify the issues. 

• Identify your role in the drama trap. Are you playing the victim, rescuer or authoritarian role? Ask yourself, “How do I act in times of stress or conflict?”, “How would I operate if I were not playing this role?” and “What new boundaries and standards do I need to set to not get pulled into the drama trap?” Consciously give up the need to be right or make others wrong. Notice the old habits and behaviors that are keeping the trap in place.

• Actively seek out and close the drama trap. The role playing will continue until the players are encouraged to stop. Collaborate. Openly and constructively discuss problems and issues as they arise and anticipate traps on the horizon. Ask, “How can we work better together?” and “What can I do more of and less of to improve the situation?” These types of conversations build bridges of trust and close off the drama trap.

• Recommit to your personal vision and the company’s vision. It’s easy to get dragged into the victim trap if you do not have a compelling personal and professional vision that is pulling you forward. Remember that a vision is simply a picture of what success looks like in the future combined with the short and long-term goals to achieve it.

• Look every day (and sometimes every moment) for what is good about the situation. There are lessons to be learned at every turn, and it’s remarkable, but if you look for what is new and good, you will find it.

• Seek experts who can spring you from this subtle and insidious trap. They will not get into the trap with you and can pull you and your employees up and out. A skilled coach and business adviser will give everyone new trust building and communication skills to avoid getting ensnared in the future. 

You can break out of the drama trap by keeping your focus on the positive, being clear about what you really want and why it’s important.

• Kathleen Caldwell is president of Caldwell Consulting Group and the founder of the WHEE Institute (Wealthy, Healthy, Energetic Edge) of Woodstock. Reach her at www.caldwellconsulting.biz, kathleen@caldwellconsulting.biz or 815-206-4014.

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