Adapted from Conflict without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading with Compassionate Accountability to be released in Spring 2017.

What is Drama?

It’s easy to identify the behaviors of drama: gossip, secrets, triangulating, retaliating, blaming, avoiding, turf wars, blowing up…the list goes on. A working definition that helps us get a handle on the concept is a bit more difficult.

Here’s what we’ve come up with: Drama is what happens when people struggle against themselves or each other, with or without awareness, to feel justified about their negative behavior. Drama is about struggling against. There’s always a winner and a loser. The fight may be internal, between people, or involving companies and nations. Relationships in drama are usually adversarial. Drama happens with or without awareness. How each person behaves in drama is predictable and habitual.

It’s highly predicted by personality and amazingly consistent from day to day. Because we tend to learn these behaviors in childhood, we’ve likely been practicing them our whole lives. Feeling justified is the modus operandi in drama. If I’m in drama, my ultimate motivation is to be able to say, “See, I was right!” How much time do you spend in your head, or with your allies, rationalizing the negative things you do? Think back to a time when you made a poor decision or treated someone badly but didn’t want to take responsibility for your behavior. What did you do instead? I bet you spent a lot of energy trying to justify it. It’s the only way.

Drama: Misusing the Energy of Conflict

We can sleep at night! This is why drama has such a negative impact on productivity: people are spending enormous amounts of energy trying to feel justified. Drama is all about negative attention behavior. Humans need attention. Period. If we don’t get it in positive ways, we’ll get it negatively. It’s the next best thing, and far better than being ignored.

In my first book, Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires, I outlined the six types of positive attention and their negative attention counterparts.

Drama is fueled by myths. Dr. Taibi Kahler discovered four false beliefs that fuel distress, drama, and miscommunication. He called these false beliefs Myths because they are very believable and drive our behavior, yet are literally false.

The myths are:

You can make me feel good emotionally.

You can make me feel bad emotionally.

I can make you feel good emotionally.

I can make you feel bad emotionally.

We are often reminded by the therapists among us that, “Nobody can make you feel a certain way.”

Technically true, yet difficult to believe when drama strikes. Kahler’s Myths help understand the nuances of how we stray from the basic existential position of “I’m OK. You’re OK.”

These four myths are the driving force behind drama. Throughout this book I will show how one or more of these myths lurks behind so many of the negative behaviors and interactions that lead to destructive conflict. Recognizing and replacing these myths with the principles of compassionate accountability is unbelievably invigorating and freeing.

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