Home/Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – Drama to Winner

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – Drama to Winner


My name is Sari van Poelje I’m the director of Intact Academy. We give training programs for coaches and consultants all over the world, from beginning coach to team coach to organizational consultant. At the moment we run team coaching training programs in five different countries. You can find them on IntactAcademy.com. My other business is Team Agility. I am an Agile Business Innovation Designer: I help companies innovate their business more quickly than their products so that they’re always on time to market. 


One of the tools we use is transactional analysis or TA. We’ve been talking about different concepts such as conflicts or psychological games, how you get into games and now we’re talking about how to get out of games or conflict. 


One of the ways to describe games is through the drama triangle, created by a guy called Stephen Karpman, who said in every conflict or every psychological game we can identify three roles. 

1.Rescuer. The Rescuer is someone who gives help when there is no need or no contract for it. So let’s say if you get hit by a car and I come to you and tell you ” I’m going to call an ambulance”. It’s not Rescuing because there is clear need. If you hand me a piece of paper and say, “Correct this for me,” and I help you with that it’s called helping, not Rescuing because there is a contract for it.

But if you’re sitting there and I tell you: “You look tired”, and get you a pillow or a cup of tea when there’s no need and there’s no contract. We call that Rescuing. It’s the difference between mothering and smothering.

2. Persecutor. Persecution is when someone gives directives without there being a need or a contract for it. So if we’re on the deck of the Titanic and I say, “Go to the life boat now. Right side, first one,” it’s not persecution because there is a need. The Titanic is sinking and you need the rescue boat. If you ask me to teach you how to train your puppy and ask me for clear directives on how to do that and I teach you how to say sit in command voice, it’s not persecution because you’ve contracted for it. But if you come into the room and I say, “Why did you put those socks on? Those aren’t socks to wear at a training program. Go change your socks.” That’s Persecution, because there is no real need and there’s no contract for it.

3. Victim. When you take a helpless position, when there’s no need and no contract for it. So if you say: :It’s warm in here” and someone gets up and opens the window when you’re perfectly capable of opening the window yourself, you’re in a Victim role. There’s no contract – bilateral agreement about a plan of action – and no need. 

In every game we have these three roles. Patricia Clarkson said there’s also a fourth role, someone who’s a bystander, who watches. If it’s a positive role, it’s called a witness. Those are people who see what’s happening and don’t do anything. 

We’re going to talk about three roles because we’re talking about how to get out of games. Most of us have a favourite role to get into games and a usual role where we end up. So some people start a game from Persecution. Why the hell did you put those socks on? And then someone stutters: I am sorry I didn’t know… And they end up in. That’s one route to get into games.

Everyone has a Plan A and Plan B. If someone’s favourite role is Rescuer they might end up in Persecution: “You know, you look really tired. I’m going to bring you a cup of tea”. The other person says: “I never asked for tea”. And you say: “Everytime I try to help you, you push me away. There’s something wrong with our relationship”. 

Some people get into Rescuer’s Plan A and they end up in Persecutor’s Plan B. Others from Persecutor to Victim, or from Victim to Persecutor.

We can also describe games through the way you end up in a game, and we call that the drama triangle. To get out of the drama triangle we can use the Winner’s Triangle. 

Acey Choy wrote a really good article called the Winner’s Triangle in 1990 [1]. He advised we should recognise the positive sides of the roles in the drama triangle, because recognizing the compassionate side of these roles will help you stay out of games. 

1.Caring. A Rescuer is really someone who is very genuinely concerned about other people. They have an exaggerated sense of compassion, and they are able to see the needs of others probably before they know their own needs. Rescuers offer help, which is a great thing to do. However, they forget that most people can solve their own problems. So, if they want to stay pure in the relationship, they have to make sure they have a contract to help.

When I see clients who regularly get into conflict or get into trouble because they offer help without a contract, I teach them to stay out of conflict or out of games by making sure that they have an agreement to help. Because if not, they’re almost sure to get into a conflict. Maybe not then, but at a certain point, because each time you help without a contract, you create emotional debt.

Rescuers need to create a need and a contract. If they see someone is tired they can ask if there’s anything they can do to help. If they say no, stop. If they say yes, you you can ask what they need. Maybe they don’t want a cup of tea. Maybe they just wanted you to speak to them. The good part of Rescuing is this caring empathy.

2. Assertive. The good part of being a Persecutor is that you have a real sense of what needs to be done. Unfortunately, in most organizations we choose Persecutors as leaders because the myth is that we need people who direct, who can tell people what needs to be done. That works for a very short time when there is an emergency, but they keep doing it even if there’s not an emergency. So if the Titanic is sinking, you can afford to be directive without a contract. Even then, I don’t really think it’s a good idea.

If that’s your usual style of management, to tell people what to do without having a contract, you’re going to get into trouble. The great thing about being a persecutor is you’ve got an acute sense of what needs to be done. The bad thing about being a persecutor is you don’t have a contract for it. So what we need to teach these managers and these people who have this great sense of what needs to be done is to actually create a question. They often think they’re the only one who can solve problems. It’s not true. So if you have this persecution energy, please, first, recognise the ability of others, because else you’ll never be able to develop them.

Persecutors need to learn how to ask a question. So do you want me to tell you what to do? They might say, Yes. I don’t have a lot of time. Please just tell me what to do.” OR, “No. Please sit next to me while I do it. And if I do it wrong, please tell me.” Then you have a contract.

3. Vulnerable. Victims are willing to show that they’re vulnerable and that they need help. Brene Brown has some great books on vulnerability. If you haven’t watched her Ted Talk, please do so. The thing with victims is they have a sense of suffering, but they don’t ask for help. They’ve learned smart ways of doing it indirectly, for instance, by saying it’s cold in here. And of course, they attract persecutors and rescuers.

Victims have to learn to account for their sense of vulnerability. Everybody thinks they can do and should do everything on their own. No! Human beings are social beings. We’re out here to help each other. Victims have to realise is they have a great capacity to solve their own problems. They have resources to solve their own problems. They need to recognise their ability to feel their own need and learn to ask for help because. 

How you get into games is clear. You take one of the roles in the drama triangle. How to get out of games is by recognising your caring, assertive or vulnerability. Then learn how to contract for what you need. 

Further Reading

[1] Acey Choy, The Winner’s Triangle, 1990: https://www.scribd.com/doc/52446575/TAJ-1990-Acey-Choy-The-winners-triangle-r

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Published On: April 3rd, 2020By Categories: Leadership, Videos


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