Triangulation in Communication

Your Career
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
George Bernard Shaw
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Triangulation in Communication

Triangulation in communication occurs when one person avoids communicating directly with another regarding an issue or problem, but instead talks with a third party about it.

Most of us have had this experience. In the workplace, it's often part of office politics, or office gossip. For example someone you manage incessantly comes to you as her supervisor to complain about a colleague. You patiently try to convince her to speak directly to "Sally" about the problem, but she can't or won't do it.
You're left wondering why on earth someone chooses to communcate that way, but even worse, for whatever reason, you may not feel able to put a halt to the triangulating process.

Generally speaking, triangulating communication is an ineffective and psychologically unhealthy communication habit that is learned with a family of origin system. The concept of triangulation comes from Family Systems Theory and is somewhat lengthy to address in this newsletter article. However, Dr. Murray Bowen, one of the pioneers
of Family Sustems Theory provides a thorough understanding of the concept.

There can appear to be payoffs for triangulating. One is a temporary feeling of closeness to the person with whom we are triangulating. For example, when someone is triangulating with her boss, it may be an attempt to create closeness and can even feel like relationship building. Another payoff is that someone venting about a third person can be lowering her anxiety regarding a particular issue. She rationalizes her behavior, telling herself she's just "venting." While some of us might considerventing to be good for the soul, it can move quickly to an unhealthy, even toxic communication pattern that contributes to office gossip.

Effective communicators see triangulation for what it is--a dysfunctional way of trying to communicate that, left unchecked, often develops into relationship problems in the workplace, within families and within communities.

Tips For Handling Triangulation:

1. Role model being a direct communicator. If you have an issue or problem with someone, always go directly to the person; present your concern in a non-accusatory
fashion and ask for their help. Most people are willing to help solve a problem, especially when it is presented in a respectful manner. If the issue feels overwhelming or you lack confidence, arrange for a professional to mediate the situation with you. Each learning experience will help you hone your skills.

2. Stop triangulation in its tracks. If someone initiates a conversation with you about a third party there are several things you can do to stop it. One is to suggest the discussion be delayed until the other person can join the group. Another is to change the topic to something neutral that you know is of interest to the speaker.
A third option is to affirm that you have heard the person and then encourage them to speak to the third party directly. And if you are in a supervisory role, demonstrate your leadership skills by offering to help the person communicate with the third party about their concern.

Advanced communication skills are a prerequisite for career success because they benefit all of our relationships. A direct, honest and respectful communication style will consistently result in empowering, satisying, and confidence building experiences.

Take good care,

Kathleen

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