The Drama Triangle at work

A very useful way of understanding where things can go wrong with the way we tackle problems involving other people – both at work and in our personal lives – is the Drama Triangle. This explains how we can easily find ourselves in the role of victim, persecutor or rescuer (or victim, villain and hero – as in all good dramas!), in ways which keep us stuck in a problem situation.  The two short videos below have slightly different, but equally useful, takes on this dynamic. They also explain how to get unstuck and find more creative ways to solve problems.

Lauren Kress (5.33 mins)

the Conscious Leadership Group (3.21 mins)


Could team leaders be more confident about fostering accountability?

What makes the biggest contribution to making sure that management policies translate into action on the ground? It’s not policy documents and directives or even the internal communication system – it’s the ability of first-level supervisors to foster accountability in their teams.

According to ACAS, these people have the greatest influence on staff performance, motivation and engagement with the organisation.  After all, those day-to-day relationships are what really create the working environment for most staff – not top management objectives and initiatives.

Very often, people get promoted to a supervisory role because of their understanding of the task the team is doing, rather than because of their people skills. Two comments I heard on my last Communications Skills for Supervisors course sum up the problem for many team leaders, who feel they are always trying to get the balance right somewhere on a see-saw between being “too nice” and “too nasty”:

⦁   “I don’t think I always make myself clear – I hate upsetting people”

⦁   “I’ve been accused of picking on people”.

At one extreme, supervisors who don’t want to create a bad atmosphere avoid holding people accountable for their performance, and may even avoid setting clear targets and goals. At the other, team leaders can come across as too confrontational and, at worst, open themselves up to accusations of bullying.

There may be an underlying assumption that we have to “get tough” on people to solve performance problems – and that this will damage working relationships. In fact, the opposite is true. The most effective supervisors are those who are able to hold people accountable for their performance in ways that actually improve relationships and build team harmony and effectiveness.

Is there someone in your organisation who would like to brush up on their communication skills? I’ll be teaching Communications Skills for Supervisors again at Bath College in May.  Here’s the link.

Communications Skills for Supervisors

I’m delighted to have been invited to run another Communications Skills for Supervisors course at Bath College in May.  This may be for you if:

  • You are new to a team leading role
  • You are unsure how to tackle a team member who is not meeting performance or behaviour expectations
  • You’re concerned about your communication style being too vague or too aggressive.

Participants are welcome to bring their specific concerns to the table. Issues we tackled on the last course included:

  • telling someone they have a hygiene problem
  • responding constructively to an aggressive colleague
  • managing people who are older or more experienced
  • changing a communication style that was perceived as bullying

The most effective supervisors are those who are able to hold people accountable for their performance or behaviour in ways that solve problems without creating new ones. Because they are skilled at doing this they can set clear standards and targets for their teams, confident of meeting them.  It is this ability that separates the leaders of the most productive teams from the rest.

Course content includes: assertive communication; the accountability cycle; how to prepare for difficult conversations;  understanding motivation and capacity; creating a pleasant and productive working environment.  There’s also a personal assessment of your habitual communication style and how you can develop different approaches.

Here’s a link with some more information.



So this is what keeps going wrong . . .

I’ve just discovered this brilliant description of the way things gradually go wrong between people.

When something bothers us, don’t we all ask ourselves “Should I say something? Will it make things worse? Nahh – it’s too small to bother about. I’ll let it pass.”

Months later, we’re at the point where we can’t say anything at all, in case we explode. Too often, it ends up going all HR on somebody.

John Scherer knows what to do instead . . .  (skip to 2.10 to get right in to it).

Top three books on workplace communication

1. Connecting With People – Two Crucial Skills by Philip Gould:

This is a brilliantly comprehensive look at the twin skills of assertiveness and empathy, specifically for the workplace, written by the head of Gould Training

It is available only as an ebook from Bookboon – you can get it for free if you sign up for their premium subscription, which comes with a 30-day free trial, then cancel the subscription before the free trial ends.  (they have quite a lot of interesting material – you could download a lot in a month!)

If you search the internet, you’ll find lots of material on assertiveness and empathy. I suggest you are wary, though, of the many articles which describe them as opposites – to me, that represents a misunderstanding of what assertiveness truly is: an honest, respectful approach that incorporates empathy for others.

2.  Crucial Conversations by Patterson/Grenny/McMillan/Switzler

From the VitalSmarts team, this book looks at how to address both content and relationship aspects of a conversation, with a focus on the workplace. Older editons are available very cheaply on Amazon.  The follow-up book, Crucial Confrontations, covers much of the same ground, but deals with more problematic behaviour and looks at motivation in more depth.

The VitalSmarts website is mainly aimed at marketing their services, but this is interesting: Law of the Hog.

3. Difficult Conversations by Stone/Patton/Heen

A classic from the Harvard Negotiation Project (I love all their stuff!). Not focused solely on the workplace, this is particularly valuable for its “three conversations” model of what is going on when people disagree.  They offer some usefully memorable phrases, such as turning a “battle of messages” into a “learning conversation” by telling “the third story” (i.e. framing the problem neutrally: “we have different standards of tidiness” rather than “you are so untidy”)

One day, I hope to attend their one-week negotiation course. Just so I can say I’ve studied at Harvard. (And because it’s brilliant)

Thanks, team leaders

Thank you twice over to the great little group of team leaders who attended my Communication Skills for Supervisors course at Bath College this month – firstly for the very positive feedback you gave on the course content, and thanks also for being such enthusiastic and mutually supportive students.

I learned a lot from you about what information is most useful for team leaders – and I was especially delighted to hear how one of you had used constructive communication techniques to deal with a particularly tricky workplace situation – after only the first session of the course!

For those of you who wanted a follow-up course,  I’ve given some thought to this and I have an idea you might like.  Frankly, the material we looked at over the four weeks covered most of the situations a supervisor would encounter – I suspect that what is really needed is the chance to look more deeply at how to apply the principles to specific difficulties.

The answer might be an ongoing coaching group, to run for maybe four or six weeks, in which members could discuss constructive communication issues in more depth than we can on a teaching course.   We could bring in some relevant learning material targetted at specific individual needs and members could work towards a particular goal. Let me know if this interests you.

Meanwhile, the course has sparked some thoughts about relevant ideas I can discuss or signpost people to in this blog. It could be the start of an ongoing conversation, so please do ask questions or suggest ideas in the comment section of this blog.