Drama at Work and How to Move Out of It

In the world of leadership development, we hear the word “drama at work” a lot. That’s not to say that we love it. In fact, people usually want to avoid office drama, and a few might desire toxic drama. If a relationship is difficult, it’s often deemed to be too dramatic. But what are we talking about when we refer to drama in these situations, and why is it negative? Karpman’s Drama Triangle is a social model of human interaction developed by psychiatrist Stephen Karpman in 1968 to break down and demonstrate the kinds of drama that can negatively affect people in conflict, whether professional or personal.

This model, deeply rooted in transactional analysis, outlines three primary roles: the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer. Indeed, these roles represent the “games” people play in stressful, conflict-ridden interactions, often leading to a cycle of blame, guilt, and avoidance of personal responsibility. Understanding the Drama Triangle is crucial, especially in workplace settings, where conflict is inevitable and can significantly impact team dynamics, productivity, and overall morale.

The Three Roles of the Drama Triangle

The key to remember is that no one is happy in the Drama Triangle.

The Victim

The Victim’s stance in the Drama Triangle is characterized by feelings of oppression, helplessness, and powerlessness. Indeed, victims often believe they have no control over their circumstances and perceive themselves as wronged by others or the situation at hand. Thus, the role thrives on sympathy and support from others, reinforcing their sense of powerlessness and dependency.

The Persecutor

The Persecutor adopts a critical and blaming stance, pointing fingers at others for the situation at hand. This role is often associated with anger, authority, and control, masking fear and vulnerability. Persecutors believe in pushing others down to elevate themselves, often leading to a toxic environment of fear and resentment.

The Rescuer

The Rescuer aims to help, solve, or save the Victim from their perceived plight, often without being asked. While this role may seem benevolent, it stems from a need for validation and control, fostering dependency rather than empowerment. Rescuers often neglect their own needs and boundaries, leading to burnout and frustration.

The key to remember is that no one is happy in the Drama Triangle.

Drama at work Karpman's Triangle

Identifying the Roles in the Workplace

Recognizing the Drama Triangle at work involves keen observation and self-awareness. It can manifest in various scenarios, such as a team member constantly complaining about their workload (Victim), a manager harshly criticizing employees for mistakes (Persecutor), or a colleague always stepping in to solve others’ problems (Rescuer). However, identifying these roles requires paying attention to patterns of behavior, language, and the underlying emotions driving these interactions.

Steps to Exit the Drama Triangle

Exiting the Drama Triangle is essential for fostering a healthy, productive work environment. Here are steps to identify and break free from these destructive roles:

Step 1: Awareness and Acknowledgment

The first step is recognizing when you or others are engaging in the Drama Triangle. Awareness allows you to pause and reflect on the role you’re playing and its impact on the situation and relationships.

Step 2: Assume Responsibility

Each role in the Drama Triangle avoids personal responsibility in some way. Taking responsibility for your actions, feelings, and contributions to the conflict is crucial. This also means acknowledging your part in the situation without blaming others or external circumstances.

Step 3: Establish Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is key to exiting the Drama Triangle. This involves communicating your needs and limits clearly and respectfully, without falling into the Rescuer role. It also means allowing others to take responsibility for their actions and emotions.

Step 4: Adopt Empowerment Dynamics

David Emerald’s Empowerment Dynamic offers positive alternatives to the Drama Triangle roles: the Creator, the Challenger, and the Coach. Indeed, These roles focus on solutions, growth, and empowerment, fostering a positive and collaborative environment.

  • The Creator focuses on solutions rather than problems, taking proactive steps to achieve goals and resolve conflicts.
  • The Challenger provides constructive feedback and challenges others to grow, without resorting to blame or criticism.
  • The Coach supports and encourages others to find their solutions, promoting autonomy and responsibility.

Step 5: Practice Open Communication

Open, honest communication is vital for breaking the cycle of the Drama Triangle. This involves expressing your thoughts and feelings clearly, listening actively, and engaging in dialogue to understand different perspectives and find common ground.

Step 6: Foster a Culture of Accountability

Creating a culture where everyone is accountable for their actions and contributions to the team can help prevent the Drama Triangle from taking hold. Therefore, you should encourage team members to own their successes and mistakes, learn from them, and move forward constructively.


Karpman’s Drama Triangle provides a powerful lens through which to view and understand the dynamics of conflict and dysfunction, particularly in the workplace. Thus, by recognizing and actively working to exit these roles, individuals and teams can foster healthier, more productive, and empowering interactions. The journey out of the Drama Triangle is ongoing and requires commitment, self-reflection, and a willingness to embrace change and growth.

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