The Bermuda Triangle - Moving from Awareness to Effectiveness

May 8, 2019

by Arleta Lucarelli, Senior Human Resources Consultant

Have you ever considered that conflict, while uncomfortable, scary, or difficult for some, is a natural and necessary part of relationships that when handled appropriately can lead to creativity and collaboration? 

The Bermuda Triangle (also known as the Drama or Karpman Triangle) is one model that can support us viewing conflict differently. The model posits three unconscious roles a person may assume in a conflict situation. It is important to understand that these roles are positions of behaviour, not statements of identity.  The three roles are:

The Victim – the person who sees themselves as oppressed, powerless and struggles to take ownership of the situation. “Why me?” or “poor me” are common refrains of the victim role. 

The Villain – the person who pressures or coerces the victim to get something done. In this role, a person often uses criticism, shame or blame.

The Hero – the person who intervenes out of a desire to help the situation, often uninvited, and enables the present situation.

Although conflict is inevitable in any workplace or relationship, getting stuck in the triangle doesn’t have to be. So how do we shift and break out of the roles?

  1.  Become aware and name the role you are playing.
  2.  Decide not to continue in that role.
  3.  Shift to a new behaviour that allows you to take 100% responsibility. A few tactics include:
  • Defining your desired outcome and stating what you want.
  • Building others up instead of putting them down.
  • Encouraging independence in others instead of interdependence.

When I first identified that I tend to fall into the “hero” role, it was a big “aha” moment for me. This self-awareness was powerful and allowed me to break out of the trap and be more effective in conflict situations. I learned to listen without trying to fix things; to ask questions before offering advice; to delegate more and be open to new ways.

Since coming to UNBC, a new trick that I have learned is how to turn a complaint into a request. I have even started using it with my children! Go ahead, give it a try. Next time you don’t like something, frame it in the form of a request. Ask yourself, if I don’t like this, “what do I want?”