Wednesday, December 3, 2008 by Dave Blum

One of my favorite books in recent years is Gary Harper’sThe Joy of Conflict Resolution“.  Harper, a trainer, writer and facilitator based in Vancouver, is a member of the instructional team of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute of B.C.  His book bears the subtitle:  “Transforming Victims, Villains an Heroes in the Workplace and at Home”.  The central tenet of Harper’s work is this:

When in conflict, we tend to enter a “drama triangle”, in which there are three main players: 1) the victim, 2) the villain and 3) the hero.  Our customary role is generally the victim; someone has threatened our values or is depriving us of something we need or desire.  So we freeze, either suffering in silence or complaining about the situation and blaming the person responsibile for our plight (the villain). The hero has a more active role, defending his own interests or coming to the victim’s rescue –“evening the score”. The villain is the one doing the depriving, often from a emotional place of mistrust, control and fear.

Each role has a dark side:  although victims gain sympathy, they also absolve themselves of responsibility, meanwhile sacrificing a sense of control or influence over the situation.  Although heroes empower themselves and potentially earn societal acclaim, their activities are clearly aggressive. They walk a fine line between righteousness and self-righteousness…while keeping the victim  entrenched in their helplessness.  And the villains, they tend not to see themselves as the bad guys at all; within their own storyline, they are the misunderstood heroes, with clear and perfect justification for their actions.

Whether in the workplace, at home, or taking part in corporate team building activities, the trick is to step out of the drama triangle.  Harper writes that the first step is “telling people our story (in a way they will be able to hear it) and listening to their story with curiosity.  Such open communication fosters mutual understanding, and this understanding provides a bridge over which we can exit the drama triangle and enter the circle of resolution.”

The Joy of Conflict Resolution is a fascinating read.   I refer to it often during my treasure hunts and scavenger hunts, where strong emotions tend to arise.  Check it out!