Triangulation happens when you have an issue with someone, but instead of talking directly with that person, you talk about the person and situation with a third person. This behavior undermines group trust and cohesion in two ways:
- You lose the opportunity to improve the relationship. You don’t talk about the issue, work through it, and find common understanding. Effective groups build trust and resilience when group members hold difficult conversations effectively with each other. They learn about their differences and create strategies together to behave in ways that feel respectful to each other.
- Gossip and drama stories replace accurate understanding of people’s complex motivations and intentions.
When you tell a third person about someone else’s bad behavior, you most likely are sharing a story about how you feel wronged and the evilness of the other person. You assume that person intended to hurt you or others. More often than not, when you assume the worst about people’s intentions, you are wrong—and you don’t even notice it because you don’t talk about it with that person.
From the other’s perspective, he probably believes he had good intent (we all usually do) or that the circumstances caused him to do something he didn’t really want to do (we tend to blame circumstances rather than own our own bad behaviors).
If you don’t take the time to talk directly with each other, you lose the opportunity to learn about each other’s motivations and to describe the impact the situation had on you. Instead of clarifying what you each value, you generate misunderstanding and mistrust throughout the group. For more insight, read The origins of drama.
A common “end run” that promotes triangulation in the workplace occurs when group members too quickly jump up the chain of command to a lead, supervisor, manager, or HR.
You can end triangulation and rebuild group resilience if the members agree to a common approach when they encounter difficulties with each other. To find out how, read Three steps to end triangulation.