If you’re a mariner lost at sea, triangulation is a very good thing. It’s a navigational technique that allows you to figure out where you are by measuring the triangle formed by two known points and your unknown point.
But in the lexicon of workplace psychology, triangulation is another thing altogether — and a bad one. This kind of triangulation happens when one employee takes an issue or conflict with a co-worker to a third co-worker. It’s a form of talking behind someone’s back.
Why is triangulation so harmful? There are lots of reasons, some of which you may not have considered.
Wastes time. If Employee A is upset with Employee B because of B’s frequent tardiness, Employee A will most likely get nowhere by grousing about it to Employee C, who has no more control over A than B does.
Amplifies the problem. When Employee D complains to Employee E about Employee F, it doesn’t assuage D’s feelings. Most often, D just gets himself more worked up. He may get E worked up, too, to no practical effect. And if Employee E then tells Employee G, THAT person may also get worked up.
Foments mistrust. Suppose Employee H has just delivered a harangue about Employee I to Employee J. Employee J nods in agreement, but once H has left the room, J starts thinking, “Does she carry on like this behind other people’s backs besides I’s? Like mine, for instance?”
Can’t be kept from the target. No matter how much Employee K exhorts Employee L not to repeat what K has just said about M, L usually will, and M will usually hear about it eventually. Result? Further bad blood.
Impedes a solution. If Employee N spends his time and energy complaining about Employee O to Employee P, he’s much less likely to take the problem directly to P, or to a supervisor who might be able to intervene usefully.
If you’re a manager who would like to deal effectively with triangulation issues in your workplace, check out this article in our HR Information Center.
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