Doctor Neha: Today we have a special guest. Susan is a doctor, colleague, and friend of mine who is being a brave soul this week to ask her communication questions so that all of you can learn.
Susan: Thank you Neha. I’m very happy to be here.
Doctor Neha: Tell me, what is your communication question?
Susan: Well, my question is that, as an employer, I have a whole staff of people working under me. You gave this great discussion about sort of the drama triangle, about how giving feedback to somebody or speaking to somebody that there’s this potential for the person that I’m giving feedback to feel victimized in the conversation. There’s often nothing I can do to prevent somebody from feeling like they’re a victim, because it’s about them and it’s not always about me.
Doctor Neha: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true.
Susan: How can I help prevent that from happening?
Doctor Neha: Great question. In a drama triangle, someone perceives someone else as a persecutor, right?
Doctor Neha: They often then go and ask somebody else to rescue them. If they have that experience with you, they’re going to go find somebody else in your office and they’re going to talk all about how you just said or did something.
Doctor Neha: First of all, I love that you are aware of it. What you’re saying is, sometimes it’s about them, but what is my part in this?
Doctor Neha: What can I do? The first thing I’d tell you is tone. Tone is so big. Let’s do a little exercise right now. You know the word oh, like O-H. It’s a pretty meaningless word without tone. What I want you to do right now is I want you to say, “Oh,” like you’re angry.
Susan: Oh [with an angry tone].
Doctor Neha: What about “oh,” like you’re skeptical?
Doctor Neha: What about “oh,” like you’re surprised?
Susan: Oh, yeah!
Doctor Neha: What about “oh,” like you’re pleased.
Susan: Oh, nice.
Doctor Neha: Often people worry that what they’re saying is the problem. But the first thing to pay attention to is tone. Be very mindful of your town. By virtue of you owning this business, you’re in a position of authority.
Doctor Neha: The next thing is you know sometimes that what you need to say might make you uncomfortable, such as giving feedback to people who work with you. There’s also the part of you that thinks, Oh, I really want to give them this feedback. I hope they receive it well.
Well, you can’t really control how someone else receives it.
Susan: I’ve been living with that, yes.
Doctor Neha: What you want to do in that scenario is first always get their permission. Let them know something is coming. As human beings we like to know what’s happening. Tell them what the topic is about because chances are they probably know if it’s not something so great.
They probably know, “Oh, I didn’t handle that well,” or “Oh, she wants to talk to me.”
Now when you’re giving feedback to someone else or in having a dialogue about something that you might be uncomfortable about, what happens if you shift into fear?
Susan: That energy is not good. It shuts everything down. Actually, I find that I’m not aligned with speaking truthfully anymore. It sort of shifts me out of being able to think clearly and speak truthfully and compassionately. It just sort of derails the conversation.
Doctor Neha: Then, what are you doing? Are you trying to just get through it?
Susan: Well, I suppose that would be true. Or I’m trying to regain my composure.
Doctor Neha: Right. Then, all of a sudden the other person is wondering what just happened. Another thing you might do in that space is start sending mixed messages. You’re saying something, but then you’re trying to take care of them because you want them to be okay. Right?
Everything starts getting blurred. Not only might you not say what you want to say, but you’re also then sending these crazy mixed messages because you want to take care of them. The other one thing I’ve noticed is when people shift into fear, they make statements instead of ask questions.
So what you do is shift into the space of believing that they’re whole, resourceful and capable. Do you believe that about the people who work with you?
Susan: Oh sure. I do.
Doctor Neha: Then when you give them feedback, at the end of it, say, “Does that resonate? Does this seem true to you?” This is your team. While, they, of course, probably do want advice and probably do want to understand things, they really want your connection. So when you say something, stay curious.
For example, ask, “Hey, is there something I’m missing?” I always find that if somebody says something, even if it seems offensive to me, and at the end they ask, “Does that resonate?”, then I feel like there’s space to create a bridge.
Susan: That makes a lot of sense. That’s solid great advice for me to take forward.
I’m also always wondering about some people who are going to be a victim no matter what. Even if I’m clean, clear, grounded and connecting to them, even if I’m speaking from the heart in the most gentle, heartfelt way, they’re still going to take something personally.
How do I help people who are perpetually the victim be more aware of owning their own piece in the drama triangle? As the employer and the team leader, I have to help everybody be the best that they can be. I’m happy to own my own piece. But I also need to sometimes help people with their piece.
Doctor Neha: Okay. You definitely need to help people when they’re on your team, right? There’s the doctor piece in you that I’m hearing, which is the over-caring piece. When you call someone a perpetual victim, that tells me that you’ve been trying for a little while. This isn’t the first time. This isn’t the second time. This isn’t the tenth time. By the time you’re saying this to me, it means you’ve tried everything in your toolbox.
Susan: Probably, yes. It’s about the drama triangle that I don’t want going on in the office … and how to break the drama triangle when I know that I did my part and how do I help a person who feels like a victim continually in a drama triangle.
Doctor Neha: What happens in a situation like this is you let everybody know. These are the new rules. We’ve all reset everything today.
These are the new rules. No drama triangle. We’re going to hold confidentiality in the office. Right? Because you guys already do that. You’re a medical office.
Susan: It’s always good to remind them of it though. That’s why I’m really glad we did that today. Yes.
Doctor Neha: Then, what you’re going to say is, “Hey, if you find yourself running a drama triangle, what I want you to know is you can always ask me to come in and help you have the conversation you need to have.”
But what is not acceptable is to say you don’t know how to do it and then continue doing it.
In a leadership role, your job then is to offer that support to be available. But you can’t have that happening any time during the week, in the middle of patient care or other priorities. So you set aside office hours. Once a week, say, 3 to 4:30 on Fridays is the time, that you are available to employees to help them.
Susan: So I make it clear that this is about our values. These are the values for our office. We’re not going to have drama triangles. And that I’m available to help people who feel they’re getting stuck.
Doctor Neha: Yes.
Susan: Okay. I like it. Thank you.
Doctor Neha: If any of you find yourself caught in a drama triangle—which means I have an issue with Susan and instead of talking to her about it I go to someone else about it—if you find this in your family or in your work environment, there are really healthy ways where you can step out of that. Make sure that you’re not contributing to the problem. That you’re actually going to help solve it.
Your Awareness Prescription for Drama Triangles
- What role do you find yourself playing in the drama triangle?
- Is it different at work or at home?
- How has this served you in the past?
- What’s one way you can show up differently?
- What would you need in order to do this?
To your drama-free day,