Workplace conflict is commonplace in the professional world and despite our best efforts to avoid it, conflict with colleagues is often inevitable.
I recently became aware of a concept called “triangulation” and learned about the significant role it can play in workplace conflict.
While the concept can seem basic, truly understanding how to recognise triangulation in our own behavior is a valuable asset. Especially for young professional women navigating workplace conflict for the first time.
Understanding triangulation can help build the skills and confidence we need to resolve workplace conflict productively.
Ultimately conflict can be used to leave relationships improved, not impeded. Triangulation can be a terrific tool in learning how to navigate conflict productively.
While it often gets a bad rep, workplace conflict can actually be a great way to improve both our professional relationships and the caliber of our work.
Healthy workplace conflict takes us forward and challenges us to think outside our own box by introducing us to different opinions and perspectives.
Here’s an example of healthy conflict. Two co-workers disagree about the best path forward for a new strategy or product and healthy conflict ensues. It usually leads to one of two outcomes. Either a compromise which means a better end result. Or a better shared understanding about how each person thinks.
Here’s an example of unproductive conflict. Two co-workers refuse to resolve a small disagreement which manifests into a month-long, drama-filled feud. Instead of sorting it out with each other, they both complain about the situation to their team mates.
This type of conflict causes real damage to professional relationships and the productivity of all parties involved.
What is triangulation?
In a workplace setting, triangulation relates to your interaction with other people during conflict.
Imagine you are Person A. You are involved in conflict with Person B. Triangulation occurs when you avoid talking to Person B about the issue at hand, and instead talk to Person C about what is going on. While Person C was not initially part of the conflict, they have now been drawn in. You have in effect, created a conflict triangle – aka triangulation.
Now in my opinion, there are two main types of triangulation: helpful and unhelpful.
My goal is to help you identify what unhelpful triangulation is so you can recognise it in your own behavior. And then hopefully move towards healthier helpful triangulation in the future.
While it can be useful to “download” or “vent” your frustrations to another person, triangulation becomes unhelpful if Person C is someone who works closely with both you and Person B. Your conflict with Person B now has the potential to impact more people than just the initial two parties involved.
Talking to Person C about the problem can quickly spiral or devolve into unhelpful dialogue that does nothing to resolve the issue, and everything to draw more parties in. It can change the way Person C behaves around Person B. And it can also stall conflict resolution and extend the life of the issue. In essence, something that could have been resolved by two people is now complicated by a third.
To be clear, unhelpful triangulation is problematic because it enables you to avoid dealing with Person A.
Instead of going around in circles or “gossiping” with a team mate, we can find a more suitable Person C and use triangulation to debrief and process conflict. A suitable Person C will help us to use triangulation to find the best path forward.
Triangulation can take on a healthier form if your Person C is a trusted confidante who is external to the conflict. A mentor, manager, partner or friend can offer an impartial and objective perspective because they are not as emotionally invested in the conflict.
Outside advice and perspective can be really valuable in helping you navigate how best to act during conflict. By taking triangulation out of your regular work environment and away from your close team mates, you can help to contain and minimise the effects the conflict is having on your day-to-day environment.
Taking the high road
Removing unhelpful triangulation can be like breaking a bad habit. Stay mindful of your interactions with others and try to keep discussions about other staff professional. Remember that if the conversation begins to devolve, you may be better off pulling it up than letting it run away.
Use helpful triangulation to seek advice from a mentor. They can help you learn new skills and get a bird’s eye view of what’s going on. Have confidence in your ability to deal with conflict and build a reputation for taking the high road.
- Brings a third person into the conflict
- Adds more momentum to the conflict by whipping up a higher emotional response
- Enables you to avoid resolving the conflict
- Arms you with a more objective perspective about what is going on
- Avoids growing the conflict into something bigger than it already is
- Helps you learn new skills for dealing with conflict
What’s your experience dealing with conflict like? Send me a message or leave me a comment. I’d love to hear about what you’ve learned. Keen to read more work-related articles? Learn about why you should start taking your lunch break and why women have less superannuation.
Until next time,