Triangulation is an Expensive Habit

Triangulation is an insidious habit that erodes trust and creates gridlock in organizations. When people choose to talk to their coworkers, managers and family, instead of the people they’re frustrated with, they set up an unfortunate dynamic.

While there are times when people need to vent, letting venting become a habit often reinforces the very behavior patterns that people are complaining about. Persistently complaining about others behind their backs keeps people on both sides of the equation from directly addressing the issues.

When people don’t get valuable feedback they just keep doing what they’re doing. They miss opportunities to develop and refine their skills. Learning opportunities are lost. If the leadership bench strength of your organization is not very strong, these missed learning opportunities represent an expensive loss.

Triangulation makes any kind of organization change a lot harder, and sometimes, impossible. Critical conversations don’t happen, frustration turns into animosity and people don’t give others the feedback they need to make mid-course corrections in the change process. Left unchecked, triangulation can lead to strangulation of change.

Many people have accepted that’s just how things are. People will be people. They accept triangulation as an inevitable part of the human experience in organizations. It doesn’t have to be that way.

To reduce triangulation in your team or your organization:

  • Give people the skills they need to have the conversations they’re not having. People complain about things – and other people – because they care about their relationships and what’s going on in the organization. Our Coaching in the Moment® workshop gives people a simple, intuitive approach for engaging people in the conversations they’re currently avoiding.
  • Set the expectation that people will have direct conversations with each other. Help people understand that feedback is a gift when it’s offered with compassion and the intention to help the other person be the best he or she can be.
  • Enable people to recognize and stop the triangulation habit. Talking about others is such an engrained habit for some people they hardly notice when they’re doing it. If a person complains to you about someone else, suggest that the person address the issue directly with the offending party. If the person feels uncomfortable, use coaching approaches to help the person explore how to successfully have the conversation.
  • Walk the talk. Don’t engage in gossip, or complaining about others.  Be compassionate and courageous in your willingness to have the conversations needed to help others – and your organization – be the best they can be.

As triangulation fades away, trust flourishes. When people are able to respectfully talk directly to each other, they can navigate challenges – big and small – with greater ease and speed. That’s a huge payoff for shifting one bad habit.

Dianna Anderson, MCC
CEO, Cylient

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