Triangular relationships emerge in the workplace, in romance, in families; wherever there are more than two people present.
What is a triangle relationship?
In her terrific book, Talk it Out!, Barbara Sanderson describes these roles in detail and defines an unproductive triangle as follows:
“…one in which all three roles of victim, villain, and rescuer are present. Either individuals or groups can play all three roles. Usually, unproductive triangles emerge when someone believes that he has been mistreated in some way and does not have a difficult conversation with the person who he believes has treated him badly. Instead, he goes to a third person and complains…”
Here’s a typical triangle workplace scenario:
Tyler, Kelly, and Margo are part of a workplace team gearing up for a hair show.
Tyler: I can’t believe Kelly. She did absolutely nothing to help with this event. I’ve been putting in tons of extra hours to pick up the slack from her laziness. Yesterday she was hanging in the staff room, with her feet on the counter, as if there was nothing to do around here.
Margo: Hmm…Yeah. I see what you mean. Maybe she just has a lot on her plate right now and is really stressed out.
Tyler: Well, I’ve had it with her. She never gets it. I’m so done.
Later that day Margo has a few minutes alone with Kelly and says:
Margo: Kelly, I want to give you a heads-up that Tyler is having a hard time with your role in planning this event. He got pretty frustrated when he saw you hanging out in the staff room yesterday.
Sound familiar? You can probably write the rest of the script: Margo thinks she’s helping to work things out between Kelly and Tyler. But, Kelly gets annoyed that Tyler didn’t come to her directly to discuss his concerns. And the drama grows from there.
Tyler, Margo and Kelly are each playing a role in their triangular relationship. When they see and “get” their role, then they have an opportunity to change it.
Triangle relationships have 3 roles.
Let’s take a closer look at the roles these three co-workers are playing:
Tyler—The Victim (Tyler sees himself as being victimized by what he assumes is Kelly’s laziness. He thinks he’s keeping the peace by telling Margo about the issue rather than by confronting Kelly himself. He may think it’s not his job to get Margo working harder and feel that all he can do is complain about it.)
Margo—The Rescuer (Margo contributes to the problem by rescuing Tyler from resolving the issue with Kelly directly. Margo’s relationship with Kelly is poisoned by Tyler’s complaints since she’s only hearing his side of the story.)
Kelly—The Villain (Kelly is made out to be the bad guy based on Tyler’s assumptions about what he judges to be laziness. Her relationship with Tyler is doomed since Tyler won’t confront her so she can neither explain what he perceives to be laziness or learn how her actions might be impacting the team.)
So, what can we do about triangle relationships?
It takes just one person to form a triangle relationship and just one person to keep a triangle relationship from forming. With a great deal of self-awareness and self-control we can create the kind of relationships we want.
I’d say that when we notice that moment when a triangle relationship is about to form we have a choice to choose a different behavior and keep our relationships afloat. What would you say?
Tune in next week for tips on what those different behaviors might be so we can learn how to avoid triangle relationships.