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KARPMAN Drama triangle

Employee-Manager Relationship

The Karpman Drama Triangle is a representation of Transactional Analysis (in relational exchanges) from 1968 proposed by Dr. Stephen Karpman. In transactional analysis, the goal is to highlight how individuals engage in "transactions" with each other. A transaction involves changes between individuals on a relational and psychological level. This triangle symbolizes and highlights a regular relational pattern among three roles: the victim, the persecutor, and the rescuer. These roles are symbolic because the same individual can alternate between these roles on various occasions and regularly. This triangle is labeled "dramatic" because it essentially represents a "mental/psychological game" that exhausts and causes suffering for the players (the victim, the persecutor, and the rescuer). Escaping these three roles isn't easy because we participate in this dynamic and often do so unconsciously. When we lack self-awareness, it's common to get caught up in these psychological games. While the three roles might involve three different people, it's not always the case. A drama triangle can unfold between two people, with one person shifting roles. These three roles of victim, rescuer, and persecutor can be linked to what Eric Berne (American psychiatrist and founder of transactional analysis) calls the four myths: "I have the power to make others happy" (the rescuer seeks a victim), "Indeed, others have the power to make me happy" (the victim seeks a rescuer), "I have the power to make others unhappy" (the persecutor seeks a victim), and "Indeed, others have the power to make me unhappy" (the victim expects their pursuer). In companies where Karpman situations are identified, the level of well-being and performance is generally low. For instance:

  • Consider the example of a manager in the persecutor role, "I'm tough on you, but it's for your own good." In this example, there's judgment (being tough), morality (for your own good), and guilt. This statement justifies a behavior that the person knows to be detrimental. It's not genuine professional development.

  • Consider the example of an employee in the rescuer role, "Let me help you finish." In this example, it's about providing assistance without achieving results, fostering passivity through assistance. Rescuers are typically kind and peaceful individuals, always agreeable, ready to sacrifice themselves for others and prioritize others' needs over their own. Rescuers depend on others' love as they lack enough for themselves. Their sole purpose is to help you. In fact, to save you, as often they don't ask if you need help. In a way, they "impose" their help on you.

While the environment isn't the sole cause of a Karpman triangle's creation, it plays an important role in its development. A stressful environment increases the likelihood of a dramatic triangle emerging. Additionally, individuals will feel justified in their actions if the system doesn't set boundaries. Therefore, to ensure your company's performance while avoiding the Karpman triangle, focus on creating a nurturing environment where relationships are based on facts and positive assertions. Hence, if you identify as a "victim," it's important to recognize your own vulnerability and accept it, not as a means to gain others' attention, but as something you need to personally improve—for yourself. It's also crucial to question your own responsibility in what happens to you. You aren't defined by what happens to you, but by how you choose to react to it. If you see yourself as a rescuer, you need to develop empathy to identify the genuine needs of those around you. You should also acknowledge your own limits and determine if you're capable of helping the other person. Before taking action, question yourself on three levels: if you're responding to a clear request from the victim, if you're competent to help, and if you genuinely want to help. Finally, if you're acting as a persecutor, you must work on your assertiveness—expressing yourself and asserting your rights without encroaching on others'. You'll recognize your need for support while affirming your strengths without guilt or a desire for domination. The topic is vast and complex. Creating an environment conducive to well-being and personal and professional development in your company isn't an easy task. However, the most successful companies are the ones that have achieved this. Thus, if you want your company to thrive or your teams to be responsible and autonomous in achieving superior performance, you must establish a friendly work environment.


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