How can learning about the Triune Brain and the Drama Triangle make someone a better manager?
I had the opportunity to teach Clean Language and Systemic Modelling to several heads of department in a foreign trade company in Kuala Lumpur this year. Among others, I introduced them to these two models, which are part of Systemic Modelling.
Here’s what happened when I did.
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.
The first 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 take flight.
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 stimuli triggered their Reptilian and Mammalian Brains, making it difficult for them to be at their best. One said he couldn’t stand the cold; he often turns off the air-conditioning when he walks into a room. Another said she becomes irritable when she is hungry. And yet another said if there is no clear agenda for a meeting, he is likely to become 'passive-aggressive'.
I next shared with them the three drama positions we can act out if we don’t get what we want: Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer.
I invited the heads of department to each 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, one each for 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, 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 she had a tendency to play the Persecutor when her team made mistakes.
“All this while, I just trigger my team’s Reptilian Brains when I scold them, when I talk 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.”
And this was after she applied her new skills for only a week. 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 was one of them instead of being their boss all the time.
Created by Caitlin Walker, Systemic Modelling is an approach that uses Clean Language and other models to generate high-quality attention in a group so that individuals can communicate and collaborate more meaningfully with each other. The evidence with this one head of department shows that even a brief introduction to the models within Systemic Modelling can make people better and happier doing what they do.
The Drama Triangle was developed by Stephen Karpman, M.D.