Say Goodbye To Workplace Drama And Hello To Strong Boundaries

Have you encountered the “Drama Triangle” in your workplace lately?  

It may sound like a silly question since leaders often describe disagreements as escalating into unnecessary drama that takes away from getting work done. 

In today’s blog, I want to share a valuable lesson about conflict resolution called the Drama Triangle. It was first identified by Dr. Stephen Karpman in 1967 that describes the three archetypal roles people often take on unconsciously during conflict: 

Victim; Persecutor, and Rescuer. 

The victim is the person who feels he/she is being treated unfairly by the persecutor. The victim’s stance is often, “Poor me, look at what this person is doing to me!” 

See if you relate to this example In the work setting…

The persecutor is often perceived as the boss who’s focused on results and getting projects done.  The employee takes on the role as the victim when the boss is holding the employee accountable for their performance and behavior.  

The victim perceives the boss/persecutor as being unreasonable or condescending, when from the boss’ perspective, the employee hasn’t followed through on commitments to complete a project. 

The “Drama Triangle” is when instead of the victim and persecutor working through their differences directly by listening to one another’s perspective and coming up with solutions to move forward, one (or both of them) complain to another person—the “rescuer”—about the other. 

The rescuer role is often a caring third party who truly wants to be helpful yet soon finds themselves in the middle between the victim and persecutor, or in our example, the employee and boss.  

That’s why this dynamic is called “The Drama Triangle”

To avoid getting caught up in the Drama Triangle and have strong boundaries, ask yourself this question “Who’s responsible for what?”. When you answer this question, you gain clarity about not taking on responsibility that isn’t yours. 

As Glennon Doyle says “If I say no and you get angry, that doesn’t mean I should have said yes.” 

Apply this boundary lesson from a wise father in my book  How Did My Family Get In My Office?

As a teenager, Jerry found himself in a disagreement with his stepfather about creating a “hang out” place in his brother’s room after his brother left for college. Jerry had always had a good relationship with his brother and simply wanted to be in the space that reminded him of his brother. His stepfather said “No, that’s not your room.”

Jerry went to his father to intervene and convince his stepfather to allow him to move into his brother’s room. Unknowingly, Jerry was hoping his dad would serve as his “rescuer”.

Instead of falling into the rescuer role, Jerry’s father responded “Follow your stepdad’s rules, it’s his and your mother’s household.” 

Jerry’s father was clear on the answer to the question: “Who’s responsible for what?”

Jerry said “What my dad said made me realize, it wasn’t my house. So I moved my things back to my room.”

Jerry removed himself from being a victim, took control of his emotions, and de-escalated the situation. 

If you find yourself in a Drama Triangle at work, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common conflict dynamics that happens in the workplace and in our homes every day. 

  • Which of the roles of victim, persecutor, or rescuer do you tend to fall into? 
  • How will you stay out of Drama Triangles going forward? 
  • What Drama Triangle are you facing today that you will get out of by answering the question: “Who’s responsible for what?” 

To your success staying out of Drama Triangles,


PS I recognize work situations have many nuances. Sometimes it’s hard to know if an employee is actually a victim of a boss treating them disrespectfully when in reality they’re simply being held accountable to do their job. Schedule a complimentary call with me and let’s sort it out.


About the author 

Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT works with executive leaders who want to gain self-awareness about the impact of their words and actions and up-level their interpersonal skills. 

Drawing from decades as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie brings a unique perspective to equip executive leaders with the roadmap to emotional intelligence that brings teams together. 

Bonnie’s leadership Turnaround coaching program has an 82% success rate in guiding leaders to replace abrasive behavior with tact, empathy, and consideration of others. The end result is a happy, healthy, and profitable workplace…sooner vs. later


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