Back room conversations, water cooler chatter, gossip. They all refer to the same negative behavior we've all experienced and have probably taken part in at one point or another. This behavior is called triangulation: when you go to someone other than the person you have a conflict with to complain about the conflict and the other person.
It’s natural to want to talk about our problems with others and look for comfort or validation of our “rightness,” but when it involves a third party, partaking in gossip will simply erode trust, damage friendships, soil your professional image, and induce negative morale. Triangulation almost always causes someone to think, “If you are talking about so-and-so in this way, how do I know you don’t complain about me, too?”
Sometimes triangulating may seem like a great way to let off steam or even avoid a conversation with the other person in the hope that you’ll feel better after venting. But avoiding the conflict by discussing it with an unrelated individual can really harm the relationship – both with the person you confide in and the person you communicate around. You might argue that you don’t really have a “relationship” with the individual “at fault,” but in some capacity they must impact your life – whether as a colleague, supervisor, subordinate, or client – so getting “right” with each other has many benefits.
For starters, having an honest conversation can be cathartic. Getting the issue off your chest with the intent to resolve it takes a weight off your mind and clears your “space” for positive feelings and energy.
Second, sharing your true hurt, anger, or frustration with another person (when done in a way that doesn’t place blame) shows a commitment to that person and your relationship with them. It also reveals your character as being authentic and honest and displays much more integrity than gossip does.
Having a conversation may also reveal more information that will help you understand the individual, their situation, and perhaps why they behave in the way they do that causes you frustration or anger. They, in turn, might never have been told that their behavior affects others in this way and could be grateful for the care you took to explain your feelings to them. This may also incent them to make changes to address your concerns.
More importantly, if you are going to a third party instead of the individual with whom you have a conflict, you won’t ever generate a long-term solution because you won’t be able to resolve the true issue.
In some cases, you may need to go to your manager or another person’s manager because the issue itself requires their involvement, you need guidance about how to handle the situation, or because you have tried to resolve it yourself to no avail. This is not triangulation because you are committed to resolve the conflict yourself but need additional help to do so.
Triangulation can be purposeful and spiteful, but it can also simply be a bad habit. If you recognize yourself in this blog, consider committing to stop yourself the next time you begin an unhealthy conversation with someone about another individual – or refuse to engage the next time another individual starts to triangulate with you. Then, work to resolve the complaints or issues constructively with the right person and encourage your “triangulation friends” to do the same.
Do you believe your team or teamwork suffers because of office gossip or frequent complaints? Do you find yourself involved in these conversations with others – when you know you shouldn’t be? Please share your story and your commitments with us so we can support you!
For more information on this topic and a proven conflict management strategy you can use to share your feelings and resolve conflicts in your life (at home, too!), download our Straight Talk Your Way to Success e-book or enroll in our self-study course, Managing Difficult Conversations Successfully, at www.convergencelearning.com.