Do You “Do Drama” with Your Friends?
by Wendy Keller
A new business friend shocked me when he got irate at two of my colleagues, who are people I like and respect. He said some insulting things to them and damaged several relationships in the process for me. It’s not the first time he’s done this, and it causes me to feel…sad. For him.
I’ve been pondering it ever since. Why would a grown-up do such a thing? Especially one who really doesn’t have a stake in the outcome of the work my intelligent, competent and thoughtful colleagues are doing? As I’ve puzzled over this, I’ve started to think about people in my life who have created drama. Do you have them too?
I don’t like drama. I’ve had too much drama for one lifetime already, thank you. I don’t like negative outbursts of any kind. I work hard to keep drama out of my life.
But I care deeply about my new friend, too, and would like to understand his logic. Since he’s still angry and not available for comment, I started guessing why people over-react in life. A therapist once told me that “when people have a level 5 response to a level 1 event, it’s about them, not you.” My business friend did that. But why?
After a lot of thinking, I realized it comes from his own internal pain. It comes from something inside him that was set off by my colleagues. Seeing as I dislike drama so much, I started thinking about you, dear reader. Do you have people who create drama in your life? A teenager, perhaps? An angry ex? A lawsuit? Debt collectors?
There are some strategies to deal with drama if you get caught in it and can’t just walk away. Theses are the solutions I use and that you may find helpful:
1. Recognize someone’s Level 5 reaction to a minor trigger is NOT about you. Focus on being compassionate with them There’s nothing you need to do to fix it, resolve it, heal it, explain it, excuse it. Just let that person be until they are ready to re-enter the relationship. Now isn’t the time to scold or refute. Holding steady and not being drawn into the emotional fireworks will make a safe space for them to return to when it is over.
2. Let them talk! Don’t interrupt. Don’t justify. Just let them talk. Even if you think they are wrong, pig-headed, short-sighted, interfering, meddlesome, annoying, or lying. Just let them talk. Think of it as a big blue helium balloon with a slow leak. Let the balloon completely deflate. Give a summary of their concern as clearly and unemotionally as you can. Ask them if this is what they meant. (Usually, this triggers a lot more leaking helium. Just wait until they are empty of words.)
3. Remind yourself that you don’t do drama. Don’t be yanked into self-defense, justification, or anything else. Tell your ego to take a hike. If you can, simply apologize (especially if there’s some truth to what they said!) You don’t need to be patted on your head that you are right and they are wrong. This person is angry. Gee, that’s lousy for them. Doesn’t mean you have to be sucked into their vortex.
4. If you care about the person and the relationship, when things calm down respectfully ask them what was really going on.
5. Once the crisis in their mind has passed, take a few deep breaths and observe. Is this a person who frequently brings drama into your life? Do you like drama or would you prefer peace? What do you have to do to gain peace in the interaction? Would you like to end the relationship, distance yourself a bit from it, or engage in these situations whenever they occur?
I work with a lot of professional speakers. There is a speaker story that seems apt right here. A man is sitting on the subway on his way home from a very long day at work. At the next stop, another man gets on the train with three of most unruly, loud, bothersome children in the history of mankind. The traveler notices the father just sitting there, paying no attention to his children, looking vacantly into space.
Eventually, the traveler can take it no more! These kids are off the rails! He can see other passengers are also disturbed by the crazy kids. He finally says to the man, “Hey, excuse me. But have you noticed the disturbance your kids are causing?”
The man looks at him, startled. He apologizes to the traveler and asks his kids to settle down. He turns back to the traveler and says, “I am sorry again. We’ve just left the hospital. My wife died this afternoon. They’re having a hard day.”
You never know what made someone overreact to a situation. Compassion invites you to ask questions first, come from a place of integrity and humility, and be gentle with your fellow human being.