In my conflict resolution book, Conversational Riffs; Creating Meaning Out Of Conflict, I discuss Karpman’s drama triangle.
The drama triangle suggests that when we are in conflict situations, and certainly when we retell those situations to friends and family, that we experience conflict as a narrative. It is a story of sorts, with characters, roles, plot and outcomes.
Karpman’s drama triangle suggests that character’s adopt one of three roles positioned at each corner of the drama triangle.
Very often we will position ourselves at the victim corner. This can be highly desirable because victimhood carries with it a degree of blamelessness. If we can position ourselves as the victims then we adopt a passive stance. We are blameless because things are done to us, not by us.
We can see this victimhood being played out in many workplace conflicts as well as those in the home or conflict in schools.
The other two positions are that of villain – we cannot be a victim without casting someone into the villain role – and also that of rescuer or intervenor.
To get to grips with this notion look at any news story. As I write this the civil service strike is being featured on the news. Watch to see the various protagonists jostle for position as they compete to become the victim. See who claims to be hard done by, who is casting who as villain.
When we fall into positioning ourselves as victims then we fall into unproductive positioning that goes round and round in circles. People do not remain fixed in positions but whirl around this triangle as each person utters their latest retort. We have conflict chaos and it becomes impossible to focus on the substantive issues that we need to address.
I am often asked what the answer is. And the answer is to ask questions. More on that later when we discuss curiosity.
I discuss the drama triangle with Les McKeown on his Predictable Success interview series. You can find that interview here.