What is a Control Drama?
A control drama, as coined by James Redfield in his book, “The Celestine Prophecy,” is played by anyone who is feeling low on power or energy, to manipulate and steal the energy of another. Control dramas are unconscious strategies all people use to gain power or energy from another person and to essentially, “get their way with others.” We get our way with others by making them pay attention to us and then elicit a certain reaction from them to make ourselves feel fulfilled. The positive feelings we gain are won at the expense of the other person and this often causes imbalance and drama in our interpersonal relationships.
Most of us have a dominant control drama in which we engage in automatically, without even realizing what we are doing and to what extent and expense. Your need to defend and engage in defensive responses with someone means you are caught in a control drama and you will thus, “react.” When you start to become aware of your dominant control drama and can recognize it in action, you can start to hone it and make better choices in your responses to others. Likewise, once you understand how others use control dramas to make you react, you can refrain from engaging in them and move on to more healthy resolution “responses.”
As you learn more about control dramas, you will realize you are already quite familiar with them and this is because you have been exposed to a variety of people throughout your life and have had to test each of them to successfully navigate intense interactions. Most people will resort to the same control drama when feeling tested and are completely unaware of it and how others experience them during these episodes. And with awareness, comes change.
Awareness and recognition of a control drama allows you to break the cycle and choose to disconnect from it altogether. When a control drama isn’t controlling an interaction, you can “respond” more effectively and authentically to others. You will learn about four common control dramas people use to attract and defeat others. You will also discover there are many effective ways to approach others during difficult interactions. Knowing you have choices during difficult interactions with others, allows you to live a drama free life and helps you find your “conversation peace.”
The Language within a Control Drama Lacks Accountability
When defensiveness is present in a conversation, it is likely your control drama will start to emerge. People feel the most defensive when messages of evaluation, control, hidden agendas, superiority, guilt, certainty and lack of emotion are present. In other words, these messages cause us to feel anxious or threatened; we don’t trust the people around us; we receive messages that we are being evaluated; we receive hints to change your behavior; the messages we receive tend to have a hidden agenda, which is often coupled with guilt; the person/people we interact with act superior; there is a feeling of receiving messages of “certainty” when the speaker is delivering his/her ideas or opinions.
If you listen carefully to a conversation in the midst of defensiveness, where control dramas have surfaced, you will notice you can often hear and feel excuses being made. Excuses are often disguised and will, more than likely, come in the form of detailed explanations, emotions, denials, accusations, example giving and defensive nonverbal behavior [eye rolling, dramatic sighing]. Of course we all find ourselves engaged in this kind of communication during delicate moments and it is quite normal to choose to respond this way when we are feeling defensive. However, these forms of “excuse making,” keep the issue/problem unresolved, active and “on the table.” In other words, an Excuse = Blaming. When you don’t take ownership for an issue, whether you are right or wrong, then the issue and the control drama remain active.
Communicating with Accountability Stops an Active Control Drama
Assertive communication contains a tone of accountability and puts the issue/problem in the “past.” In other words Accountability = Ownership. Ownership stops the blame game and stifles control dramas. It is noteworthy to mention here that control dramas are also present in mindless gossip about others. When we talk about other people, even when they are not present, we tend to allow defensiveness back into the conversation. If you pay close attention to gossip, you will hear messages that contain opinions, emotions, judgments and blame moving to the forefront of the conversation and this allows conflict to stay active or even worse, it adds fuel to the drama.
How to Communicate with an Accountable and Drama Free Message
Below are the components needed when constructing an accountable and drama free message. If these components are present in your message to another during a difficult conversation, the conversation will be more balanced and thus more effective. You will then be able to, more readily, put the issue in the “past.”
P – Be sure to include a Polite and Professional introduction and maintain this tone throughout the interaction. “I hope this email finds you well. I have been thinking about you since our last interaction.”
A – Be willing to Apologize for anything in which you are responsible, verbally Agree with one or more of their talking points, and find a quality or behavior of theirs you can Appreciate and Admire it aloud. “I have come to realize it was wrong of me to talk poorly about our work processes to anyone other than our team and I apologize for doing so. Please know I realize how much time you put into these projects and appreciate your hard work.”
S – Tell them how you intend to/plan to Solve the issue at hand or ask them directly what can be done to resolve it. “Next time I will…” “How would you like me to handle discrepancies with our work orders as we move forward?”
T – Thank them for the opportunity to meet/communicate and Target a positive interpersonal message. “Thank you for hearing me out; I am glad we discussed this issue because I enjoy working with you and want us to be on the same page.”
Common Feelings and Needs
Most people have the same basic desire to get along with others and live a drama free life. Knowing this we can choose to communicate with others on a basic human level pertaining to our needs. One’s personal truth can be most easily recognized as a feeling. Your feelings can directly help you define and understand your needs. When you choose to interact with others from an authentic place, you choose to openly express your feelings and your needs with them. In other words, you choose to be accountable and responsible for your intentions, requests, actions and words.
You can choose to use a feeling/need sequence when resistance presents itself in a conversation. Most people are inspired to find resolution when mutual understanding is present. Mutual understanding is created when open expression, where each person shares his/her true feelings and needs [intentions], is included. People feel the most supported and non-defensive when messages are solution oriented and spontaneous, rather than premeditated. In other words, supportive messages cause us to feel equal, respected, understood, and accepted for who we are and how we experience the world around us.
How to Directly Apply a Feeling/Need Sequence
Learn to Say No with a Feeling/Need Sequence
Acknowledge the other’s Feelings, “I can see you are excited about your new job selling insurance and that it is going well for you…” State Your Position, “I am happy with my current insurance provider and am not interested in changing providers at this time.” Say No, “So thank you so much for thinking of me and no, I am not interested in purchasing insurance from you right now.”
Manage Disruptive Behavior with a Feeling/Need Sequence
“I am feeling overwhelmed because everyone seems to be talking at once and I need you to hear what I am saying so we all understand the task before us.”
Respond to Emotions with a Feeling/Need Sequence
“So you are feeling anxious about the move and need to know more about how it will be conducted?”
Offer Praise with a Feeling/Need Sequence
Tell the person what they did specifically, how it made you feel and what need it met for you: “I noticed you traded toys with your sister and it made me feel very proud of you because we value sharing in this family.”
Solve a Problem with a Feeling/Need Sequence
“Can we back up for a minute? I feel confused about what we are doing and need to understand it from a big picture point of view first.”
Respond to another’s Anger with a Feeling/Need Sequence
“I can see you are feeling deceived and need to know what was specifically said in your absence.”
Compromise with a Feeling/Need Sequence
“I am feeling stuck on this issue and need to know you are committed to attending these meetings. Can you agree to email me when you know you are going to be absent?”
Ask for What You Want with a Feeling/Need Sequence
“I feel confident about my decision to change jobs and need to know what you need to make this work for our family.”
Exercise: They Say Hindsight is 20/20
Create a list containing the names of your closest family members and friends. After each name, write the first few words [adjectives or action verbs] that come to mind when you think of this person. Next, describe how you feel around them during tense interactions. Do you have a name you call him/her behind his/her back, such as “drama lama” or “drill sergeant?” This could be a good indicator of how you experience them in general. Note who you feel the most comfortable and uncomfortable around, when having to visit for longer periods of time. Hindsight may be 20/20!
written by: Dr. Jody Janati. Jody currently teaches in the Communication Studies Department at the University of Minnesota. She has an Ed.D. degree in Organizational Leadership and her primary interest area pertains to interpersonal conflict resolution strategies.