Is your non profit drama-free? Chances are the answer is a resounding no.

Non profits — like all organizations that involve people (AKA all of them) — can be prone to drama and interpersonal dysfunction.

I typically write about fundraising strategies. But in order to execute well on those strategies, we need organizations that can push past inevitable conflicts that arise in our work places without disintegrating into dysfunctional messes.

That’s why I’m writing today about the drama triangle — a framework for understanding and breaking negative behaviors at home and at work.

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In a typical drama triangle, you have three players: The Persecutor, The Victim and The Rescuer.

  1. The Persecutor wields power and intimidation to get his way.
  2. The Victim feels trapped and powerless to re-imagine a better future — focusing on problems rather than solutions and wallowing in the perceived reality created for him by the persecutor.
  3. The Rescuer identifies with the victim and enables him to continue feeling trapped.

Take a moment and think about a time when you played one or all of these roles in your professional or personal life. For me, a typical triangle might look like this:

  • The persecutor is a client who misses multiple deadlines and then demands that I meet mine regardless.
  • I am the victim when I respond, “Ok – I can meet your deadline, but I’ll have to cancel a special family outing I have this weekend” — even though I’m very upset to miss it.
  • Mark is my rescuer when he says, “That client is always so tough. If you don’t have time, I can help out with the project.”

Now, let’s flip the triangle into a strengths-based approach. In the strength model, you have three players: The Challenger, The Creator and The Coach.

  1. The Challenger inspires people to do their best work by clearly outlining the challenges a person or team needs to overcome and helping break through those barriers.
  2. The Creator comes up with solutions to help better his situation.
  3. The Coach supports the creator by offering questions and ideas for bettering the situation.

Ok – now, let’s revisit the Sea Change example.

  • The challenger is a client who misses multiple deadlines and asks me how the project might be streamlined in order to still meet the tight deadline.
  • I am a creator when I say, “If we cut out this piece of the scope and cancel our Friday call so I can devote that time to the project, I can meet your deadline.”
  • Mark is the coach when he says, “Maybe we could also cut out this part of the project too. Let me know if you need me to brainstorm other ways we can better set this client’s expectations.”

Of course, many of our situations are more complex than this simple example. However, simply noticing which role you are playing and when can help break engrained patters of dysfunction and increase morale.

How’s that for coaching? Hats off to my life partner Tim Walker for sharing this amazing framework with me.