Conflict is an inevitable consequence of school. Fact.

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julie leoniA Guest Post by @LoveBeingMeUK

With so many factors and variables in the mix from exams, marking, peer pressure, hormones, parents, Ofsted, promotions and performance related pay, conflict will always rear its head from time to time.

But, do you ever find yourself experiencing the same kind of draining disagreements or bad feeling?

Because if your life sometimes feel like you are stuck in ‘ground hog day’, then I’m going to share one of the best pieces of psychology I’ve ever found that can help you.

It’s so simple and yet astonishingly effective that it will save you getting into needless and exhausting patterns of conflict, freeing you up to concentrate on what matters most: teaching those kids.

It’s Not Just Circles, Triangles Can be Pretty Vicious Too!

To start let’s have a quick look at Steve Karpman’s amazing Drama Triangle, which can help you to understand what’s going on in those frustrating ‘conflict’ situations.

Triangle 1


Each of these 3 positions are roles that we play, unconsciously, when we are in conflict situations.

Let me tell you about them and see if you recognise your favourites.

  • Persecutor – When we are feeling persecutory we are critical, judgemental, and bossy. We think we are the only ones who can do the job just right and that unless we tell people what to do and take control of the situation, it will all fall apart.  We think we know better, that we are more experienced, faster, more efficient and get cross when people don’t do things the way we would have done them.
  • Rescuer – This role sounds much nicer doesn’t it, but still, at its heart is the belief that we are better than the person we are trying to Rescue. When we are in Rescuer role we do things to ‘help’ other people without checking whether they want the help or not.
  • Victim – This role is a hopeless role. This is when we are down on ourselves and down on other people, life, the universe and everything. When we are feeling like a Victim, we feel out of control and we can’t see what we can do to make things better. We’ve lost trust in ourselves and the world.  We all have days like this.
  • It is possible to play all these roles in our own head in quick succession.

For example ‘Why did she do that?  Now we’ve missed that deadline, what was I thinking leaving it to her (Persecutor)?

Oh what’s the point, I’ll never be any good at this and I was never going to get that lesson observation nailed anyway (Victim).

She looks really upset, I can’t let her know how cross I am, maybe I’ll tell her to take a long lunch break so she can relax (Rescuer).

All of this goes on in our own head and the one thing that doesn’t happen directly is addressing the problem and finding a solution.

It Takes Two to Tango!

Of course, it’s not just us who play these roles.  Our students our colleagues, our governors  and our family do too.

If one of our colleagues goes off sick and doesn’t leave cover, we can respond in a number of ways.

We might want to phone them up and tear them off a strip for being so unprofessional (Persecutor) or you might want to let them off the hook, in spite of the mess they have left for the kids and the department (Rescuer) or we might not say anything and just feel defeated, hopeless and put upon. (Victim).

If we do shout at our colleague, they might criticize us back, telling us how demanding we are or they might go into Victim and admit to not managing at the moment,

Once we are on the Drama Triangle, we move round the positions, so we might start off feeling critical (Persecutor) and end up feeling hopeless (Victim).

The only thing that is for certain is that once we fall into the trap of playing the roles on the triangle, everyone involved will come away feeling bad.

So What Can You Do to Avoid the Trap?

We can switch to the Winner’s Triangle instead.

Here’s the approach.

Triangle 2


So instead of Persecuting, we Powerfully state what we need and what we want.

Instead of Rescuing we take Responsibility for our own needs and we Respond to the needs of the other party to find a way forward.

And instead of being a Victim, we allow ourselves to be Vulnerable, if only to our self.

We tune in to how we are feeling and we take Responsibility for our own needs and feelings.

So when your colleague calls in sick and doesn’t leave cover you:

Tune in to how you feel about the situation (Vulnerable) – maybe it’s OK might have time to set up the lessons and be able to empathise with how rough your colleague is feeling.

Respond to your colleague, taking responsibility for your own needs, Responding to their needs and taking responsibility to finding a solution that works for you in Powerful and Potent way. So perhaps empathising but asking that next time, they leave cover work.

Sounds simple, yes?

Well like any new skill, it takes practice but it is without doubt worth the effort, as mastering the Winner Triangle can help you to master managing your business.

Dr Julie Leoni is an author, life coach and psychology teacher with over 25 years’ experience of training and facilitating groups. She has worked with organisations to develop Emotional Intelligence and has experience and training in bereavement, domestic abuse, mindfulness and meditation as well as a number of therapeutic approaches. She has 2 sons who she loves loads and who sometimes drive her crazy.

You can check out her blog, coaching, books and courses at and download free information guides to how to spot domestic abuse and get support for people living with it at