Are office politics getting you down?

Do you sometimes feel like a referee? Do you find people come to you with complaints about how other colleagues or other departments have let them down? Do all the little niggles of business life somehow seem to end up at your door, so you feel the weight of people’s expectation that you should in some way sort their problems out for them?

This is a very common complaint of the business owners and directors we meet in our work, and it causes a lot of stress and anxiety, to the point that by the time we come on the scene they are often feeling burnt out and close to giving up. “I didn’t accept this role / start this business”, they cry, “just to end up handholding people and fixing their problems for them. Why can’t they just take more responsibility?”

So why do people in organisations end up blaming others and looking to their leaders to sort out their issues for them? It’s the result of a little psychological game that we all play from time to time, and that organisational life particularly seems to bring out in people: the drama triangle.

The drama triangle consists of a Victim, a Persecutor and a Rescuer. Here’s how it plays out: let’s say you are getting on with your work, when you realise that you need something from someone else or another department. You request this, and forget about it until the due date, when suddenly, you discover that they got busy and forgot to do your thing for you. Now you are going to be late delivering your work, and your boss is going to be cross with you. How better to deflect his or her annoyance than to explain that it wasn’t your fault – ‘they’ let you down. You are the victim and ‘they’ are the persecutor.

This is such a common pattern in everyday life that you see it everywhere – children play it out in their games and sibling rivalries, scriptwriters use it in soap operas, and politicians point the finger of blame to deflect attention from their own shortcomings.

So what about the rescuer, then? Well, in office life, that’s you! Just as children run to Mum or Dad, it seems that people in organisations acquire the habit of running to their leaders.

And if it weren’t for the effect on your health and your sanity, you might think there’s not a lot of harm in it. You get to rescue somebody by stepping in and ‘fixing’ the problem. They are grateful, and you’re the hero. Everybody’s happy, right?

Well, no. Look at the effect on your organisation a few years down the line. You can’t get on with your work as a Director and leader of the organisation, because you are so busy troubleshooting. Your staff feel disempowered and have stopped even trying to sort out their own problems. And relationships are suffering and the atmosphere at work is unhappy.

It takes a brave stance as a leader to resist the temptation to ride to everyone’s rescue as soon as they look as if they’re in trouble. People who are good at rescuing – and you may well be one – need to recognise that, by rescuing a victim, you simply train them to believe that they can’t solve their problems by themselves. This isn’t good for them, it’s not good for your stress levels, and it’s certainly not good for your organisation.

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