Thursday, July 2, 2009 by Dave Blum

I realize I have a little bit more to say about the giving and receiving of feedback, and the concept of “Intention/Impact”.  I refer back both to my blog entry a couple of days ago, and also to a piece I wrote in December about Gary Harper and his book:  The Joy of Conflict Resolution.

A quick review:  in his book, Harper describes three archetypes we tend to play when caught up in the “drama triangle”–

  • The Villain
  • The Hero
  • The Victim

Generally speaking, the villain is seen as the nefarious bad guy; the hero is seen as the action-oriented good guy, righting wrongs, saving the world; the victim is seen as the innocent sufferer, acted upon negatively by the evil villain.

What’s significant to me is that each archetype believes that they have GOOD INTENTIONS.  There’s that word again, “intentions”.    The villain generally thinks she’s helping the world in some way, and that she’s just misunderstood.  The hero tends to feel that by stopping the villain, he is demonstrating his devotion to the common good. And the victim also feels she has the best of intentions, foiled by the self-serving villain.

So, all three characters believe they have positive intentions. What makes it a “drama” or “conflict” triangle is that the three characters don’t share their intentions with each other and try to find mutual solutions.  They ACT OUT.  The villain tries to find someone to help her slay the villain.  The hero asserts himself forcefully for the the victim’s benefit. And the villain fights back against the hero, often becoming the victim herself when the hero crosses the line and behaves overly aggressively.

At home or at work (in the office or out on scavenger hunt)… I believe it would behoove us, when involved in a conflict, to stop and ask ourselves these six questions:

1) What role am I playing?  Am I acting out the victim, seeking aid to my cause?  Am I playing the aggressive hero?  Might I be perceived as the misunderstood villain?

2) How am I labeling the other people involved in the drama?

3) What positive intentions might they at least think they have?

4) Can I speak to each person and affirm to them my recognition of their positive intention?

5) Can I then communicate to each person the impact of their actions (no matter how positive the intention)?

6) And finally, can we brainstorm mutually beneficial solutions, where everyone’s needs get met?

By acknowledging people’s positive intentions, you keep them in the dialogue.  The conversation feels safer for them when they know you don’t see them as the villain.  Sure,  their well-intended actions may have backfired, but at least they started from a positive place.  And that often makes all the difference.