For those of you who have not yet read the work of Dr. Alan Godwin, I highly recommend his book “How to Solve Your People Problems” (published 2011, dralangodwin.com). Dr. Godwin teaches us skills for dealing with people who truly do have a bad intention towards others, or who are simply so wrapped up in themselves they do not care what the impact of their behavior is. His work goes way beyond dealing with difficult people, and is an invaluable addition to the resources available to help with our toughest situations. You can read Dr. Godwin’s work for the details, but for now I am going to add my contribution to the conversation he so eloquently started.
Drama stagers create particularly crazy making environments. Their behavior differs from people who grew up in addicted families. When adult children learn the telltale signs of how their addicted family impacted them, their life suddenly makes sense in a brand new way. They are generally grateful for the information and strive to overcome the effects of the past. For them, there was always a sense of something being not quite right but never really being able to figure out what it was, or why life wasn’t working for them. It is a relief to realize the problems can be fixed.
Drama stagers however, are well aware of their behavior and they coldly calculate using it to gain an advantage at the expense of those around them. They may have grown up in an addicted family, they may have grown up in a healthy family. They may have an addiction issue, they may not. They may or may not have mental health issues. Whatever their background is, the defining characteristic of these people is that they choose to continue acting in destructive ways because of the benefits it provides them.
Drama stagers can be merciless and have no problem sacrificing other people and what is important to them. These folks have an inflexible narrative about themselves and the world. They will do anything to preserve, protect, and defend that narrative. They constantly scan for threats, challenges, or violations of their narrative. They also assign the rest of us roles to play in their drama. We are almost always unaware of our role, but still get punished when we don’t play our part.
If you have more than one drama stager in the work environment, and their narratives serve one another’s purposes, then you’ll see even bigger and more chaotic scenes play out. In order to keep the drama going and keep everyone in an uproar so the focus is deflected from their own bad behavior, drama stagers attack people not problems. A lot of healthy people make the mistake of thinking that if they just solve whatever the drama stager is screaming about, it will fix things and there will be no more drama. Drama stagers exploit healthy individual’s kindness and other values. Drama stagers don’t want things to be fixed. They want their narrative to be reinforced. Spinning people in circles is the point. Actually fixing things is not. Drama stagers are weapons of mass disruption in the work environment, creating upheaval where there had been none before. Work is a theater for them, a stage upon which their emotional needs can be fed. Actually earning their paycheck and being a productive member of the work society is the furthest thing from their mind.
Next week we will take a look at the fifth and final major category of troubled co-workers / leaders: immaturity. Until then, be safe and stay strong!