"I no longer persecute them"
Have you heard of the Triune Brain and the Drama Triangle? They are two models that are useful for understanding human behaviour that will support your managers in reducing conflict and increasing performance.
A few years ago, I was asked to train as a team, and also coach one-on-one, four heads of department from a Europe-based trade financing services company.
I introduced them to these two models, which are part of a process called Systemic Modelling™, and got them to report back on the difference it made.
I explained that the neurologist Paul MacLean posits that human behaviour is motivated by three different brains. We think we only have one brain when actually there are three parts of the brain that influence the way we think, learn and behave.
There is the Reptilian Brain, which is responsible for keeping us alive. This brain will take over if our most basic needs – food, water, sleep, comfort – are not met. Or if we get angry or scared, the reptilian brain will direct us to fight, freeze or flee.
Then there’s the Mammalian Brain that is responsible for emotional safety, social behaviour, beliefs, values and memory. We keep this brain calm when we have shared norms and hang out in the environments and with people that suit us.
It is when both the Reptilian and Mammalian Brains are settled that our Neo-Cortex, the third brain, can learn new things and we can be at our best.
The heads of department used this model to think about what triggered their Reptilian and Mammalian Brains, and sabotaged them performing at their best.
One said he couldn’t stand the cold, and often he would walk into the room and turn off the air-conditioning. Another one said, if she were hungry, she would be more irritable. And yet another said if there was no clear agenda at a meeting, he would likely become passive aggressive.
They then learned about the three drama positions we can act out if we don’t get what we want: Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer. This social model of human behaviour was developed by Dr Stephen Karpman.
I invited the heads of department to think of a real-life situation that was moderately difficult. Then I asked them to place three cards on the floor like three points of a triangle, each one representing Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer.
They then role-played their situations. If they were judgemental and kept blaming the other people in the situation, they would step into the Persecutor’s position. If they played the helpless one, then they would move into Victim position. And if they were solving other people’s problems because they believed only they were capable of doing so, they would step into the Rescuer position.
What happened next?
A couple of weeks after this training, I asked for an update. One of the heads of department reported that she realised her tendency to be Persecutor when her team made mistakes.
“All this while, I was triggering my team’s Reptilian Brain when I scolded them, when I talked in a loud or harsh voice because I’m angry with them.
“After I learnt about the Triune Brain and the
Drama Triangle, I no longer persecute them
by scolding them. I ask them for their opinions and solutions.
And then we work it out together,” she said.
What difference has that made, I asked? “Before this, they were forced to do what I asked them to. Now, I’m appealing to their Mammalian Brain, so they are willing to do what I asked them to. Now, they make jokes with me. Before, the relationship was between staff and manager and they were a bit scared to talk to me. There was a difference between how they talk to me and how they talk to each other. But now, we are more like friends, like a family.”
At the end of her reporting back, she declared: “I want my team to be happy when they come to work.”
And the fact is, she felt happier, too because now she felt like she could be the kind of manager she wanted to be.
Created by Caitlin Walker, Systemic Modelling™ is a process that uses Clean Language and other models to generate high-quality attention in groups. Doing so reduces the likelihood of office drama that leads to unnecessary conflict, or the escalation of conflict, at work.
The evidence with that one head of department shows that even a brief introduction to the models within Systemic Modelling™ can help department heads manage better, resulting in people performing better.