Effective people managers must avoid triangulation in order to ensure proper development of their direct reports! Triangulation is when Person A has “a beef” with Person B, but instead of handling the conflict directly, Person A goes to the supervisor to complain. By the supervisor getting involved to speak with Person B, his/her behavior not only stifles the leadership development of Person A, but also introduces the breakdown of trust that Person B has of Person A.
Supervisors quick to jump in and assist potential conflict(s) brewing among the direct reports demonstrate a lack of maturity and experience. Effective people managers will counsel the direct report (Person A) as to how to resolve the issue him/herself (with Person B). The workplace is not about bringing a parent to work. The workplace is an incubator of leaders.
Early Learning Development
Triangulation typically stems from childhood experiences. In family dynamics, there are typically three characters, thus creating the formation of a triangle:
- Villain– The person who has done us wrong. Usually, it is an offense of interpretation rather than intention.
- Victim– The person who does not recognize contribution to the situation. Usually, it is someone who wallows in being pained.
- Rescuer– The person who is set to squash any perceived misbehavior. Usually, it is someone who gets involved out of his/her own need for vindication of perceived malevolence or a naïve belief that that’s what a strong leader should do.
Based on our experience, we bring forward into the workplace our way of resolving conflict. (For further Behavioral Science explanations, please visit KarpmanDramaTriangle.com).
Before providing a concrete example, what can quickly resolve conflicts from escalating is practicing and engaging in simple inquiry. Paraphrase what you comprehend and believe to be hearing from the message(s) sent, whether they be verbal or non-verbal. Be sure to use non-judgmental terminology and a tone of genuine inquiry. When you share the impact, and the other individual does not adjust – even after you have made a specific request for the behavior to stop – then there is an issue; which, by all means, should be escalated.
INEFFECTIVE Situation: Supervisor asked Person B to provide Person A with feedback on her project.
Person B (Villain): Reviewed the project when completed, praised Person A on her writing style, and provided constructive feedback. The two pieces of feedback consisted of how the wordcount exceeded the webmaster’s request, and how the content was too circular in response to the internal client’s concern, so a direct (more inductive) response might have been more effective. Nonetheless, she encouraged Person A to submit the piece.
Person A (Victim): Reacted in high offense. Evidently, nothing she had ever written had been criticized. She took it to the supervisor as an example of Person B being disrespectful towards her.
Supervisor (Rescuer): Did not encourage Person A to resolve it on her own. He took Person B into a private 1:1 (one-on-one), and reprimanded Person B for acting disrespectfully. He did not question Person B on intent, nor did he offer an example of how the messaging could have been crafted to be received more effectively.
Now here is an example of how another situation was handled effectively…
EFFECTIVE Situation: An experienced new hire joined an organization. She is not too friendly, however, she is a high-performer. Her colleague understands how difficult on-boarding can be, and offered to meet with her for breakfast to provide her with some cultural mentoring.
Person B: Informed Person A as to what she needs to know to be an effective leader within the organization.
Person A: Reacted in high offense. She had come from a company where competition is high, and backstabbing is common, so she felt sure she recognized what was being said to her during this meeting. Nonetheless, she asked, “Am I to interpret that I am perceived as not measuring up to the expectations of the organization?”
Person B: Genuine surprise. “Absolutely not! I’m glad you said something. I was just trying to communicate what other experienced new hires in the past have shared as to what took them a long time to understand. How about I put you in touch with a couple of them, so you can learn from their experience?”
Person A: Relieved. “I would really appreciate that. Thank you.”
Person B: “You got it. I’ll connect you with them via email later today.”
No supervisor involved. No misperception. No drama. Just inquiry and understanding.
Perspective matters. Ask.
NOTE: This blog was not written as a way to indirectly communicate to anyone in particular.
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is an inquisitive Global Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners. We increase retention. Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.
© Rossina Gil, 2015