From time time over the years, I’ve given periodic shout-outs to my friend up in British Columbia, Gary Harper, and his terrific little book: The Joy of Conflict Resolution. If you work in a team and wonder why ‘s always so much “drama” in your group, I highly recommend you give Gary’s book a look-see.
Quick review: Harper identifies three archetypes people tend to play out when involved in a conflict (or the “drama triangle”), namely:
- The Villain
- The Hero
- The Victim
The villain is the nefarious bad guy; the hero is the action-oriented good guy, righting wrongs, saving the world; the victim is the innocent sufferer, acted upon negatively by the evil villain.
What’s significant is that each archetype believes that they have GOOD 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 once again by that self-serving villain.
So, all three characters believe they have positive intentions. What makes the “conflict triangle” so dramatic is that all three characters consistently fail to share their intentions with each other or seek mutual solutions. In short, they ACT OUT rather than talk or discuss. The victim tries to find someone to help her slay the villain. The hero asserts himself forcefully for the victim’s benefit. And the villain fights back against the hero, often becoming the victim herself when the hero (inevitably) crosses the line and behaves over-aggressively himself.
At home, at work (in the office or out on scavenger hunt), I believe it would behoove us all — when involved in a conflict — to stop and ask ourselves these six questions:
1) What role might I be playing? Am I acting out the victim, seeking aid to my cause? Am I playing the aggressive hero? Or might I be perceived as the egotistical villain?
2) How am I labeling the other people involved in the drama?
3) What positive intentions might the other characters believe they have?
4) Even if I disagree with the others, can I at least recognize and affirm their positive intentions?
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 and we can escape the triangle completely?
When you take the time to acknowledge someone’s positive intentions, you keep them in the dialogue. People always feel safer when they know you don’t see them as the villain. Okay, sure, their well-intended actions may have backfired. But at least they started from a positive place. And that acknowledgment often makes all the difference.