It is as ancient as time itself and has many names. In business, they call it “The Water Cooler Conversation”; in a social setting, it is labeled as “Gossip”; while the children’s game is known as, “Whisper Down the Lane”. Any way you title it, sharing information about someone when they are not present, is a recipe for disaster. Revealing something told to you privately about a person, is delivering “unintended” communication that can damage the relationship for all parties.
Triangulation (psychology)From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Triangulation is a situation in which one family member will not communicate directly with another family member, but will communicate with a third family member, which can lead to the third family member becoming part of the triangle. The concept originated in the study of dysfunctional family systems, but can describe behaviors in other systems as well, including work.
Triangulation can also be a form of "splitting" in which one person plays the third family member against one that he or she is upset about. This is playing the two people against each other, but usually the person doing the splitting will also engage in character assassination, only with both parties.
How to Avoid Triangulation
Why has this happened since the beginning of time? You may call it human nature, but I think it can be quickly unlearned through understanding. Whenever I’m asked how to fix a damaged business relationship, I inquire if a triangulation has occurred. Most people don’t know what this means. However, after reconstructing the key communication flow in a simple diagram and a brief discussion about accountability, an “Ah-Ha” moment generally occurs. Figuring out how the exchange could have gone differently is a game changer for most people. My strategy is teaching my clients how to respond when someone approaches them with gossip or judgmental comments about a third party. Here are three responses you can use to stay out of the line of fire and promote a triangulation free zone in your workplace and personal life.
3 Easy Answers (after someone tries to triangulate between you and your colleague Joe.)
- That sounds like something you should discuss with Joe.
- If Joe wants me to here this information, I’m sure he will tell me directly.
- Let’s wait until Joe gets here to discuss this.
Knowing how to deter triangulation is a great way to avoid it in the future. When people notice this consistent response, they stop bringing triangulation to you. In addition, you enable them stop participating in this negative communication behavior altogether. Putting words to thoughts give you the power to improve relationships or disable them. I hope this knowledge gets you started on a path of healthy communication. For custom tools for your situation, feel free to consider using my services.