In Part One of my post on triangle relationships I described how the roles of victim, villain, and rescuer result in rough relationship waters.
In this post we’ll explore two strategies to keep these damaging relationships from forming in the first place.
Problem One: We talk—but not to the right person.
Here’s a common way triangle relationships form: Something happens. We feel slighted or wronged. We’re fearful of making the problem bigger, so we bring our frustration to someone else—which nearly guarantees that the problem grows. By “third-partying” we’ve now involved someone else in our drama.
Here’s a typical real-life salon example:
Jan, the receptionist (and villain) scheduled Cindy’s client for a 45-minute hair appointment. Cindy (the victim) needed one hour, so this put her schedule behind and added stress to her day—and she was not a happy camper! She wanted to rush to her manager, Donna (the rescuer), who would confront Jan about her poor scheduling.
Cindy raised this during a coaching session, since she badly wanted to stop her pattern of forming triangles with co-workers. Cindy imagined what would happen if she brought the problem to her manager, Donna.
- Jan would feel reprimanded and blame Cindy.
- Jan would not trust Cindy.
- Cindy wouldn’t know Jan’s reasoning for scheduling the appointment for 45 minutes.
- Cindy and Jan’s relationship would be damaged.
Strategy One: Gain Self-Awareness & Self-Control
Here are some reflective questions that Cindy is learning to ask herself so that she can continue to gain self-control and keep triangles from forming:
- What is upsetting me?
- What assumptions am I making?
- Can I let this go?
- Who is the best person for me to talk with so that I can maintain good relationships and resolve this issue?
- What might be the impact of that conversation?
When Cindy recognized her role in this triangle she was able to stop a triangle from forming. By anticipating the impact of her actions she could then explore her options. Cindy also learned that by waiting a few days to process the issue and calm down, she could better figure out how to address it.
Problem Two: Gossip
How often have we heard someone gossip about a friend, family member or colleague? It can make us squirm with discomfort and uncertainty about what to say. Or maybe we see someone looking upset and we ask, “Seems like something is bothering you. Can I help?” And then they dump their problem right in our lap. Now what? How can we be there for them without forming an unproductive triangle?
Strategy Two: Listen and Coach
The first thing we might do, when we’re on the receiving end of gossip, is to listen. Sometimes the other person just needs to be heard. To listen without forming a triangle it helps to refrain from agreeing or disagreeing. It might sound like this:
You sound pretty upset about this.
I can see how this adds stress to your day.
The second thing we can do is to help the person consider their options (which I would call coaching). We can do this by first asking, “Would you like my help with this?” If they agree then we can ask powerful questions to help them gain clarity. This works best when we withhold our opinion and stay focused on their needs. Here’s how this might sound:
So, what do you think might have been going on with Jan to cause her to not schedule your client for the full hour?
What do you want to do about this? Then, what might happen?
Here are two posts on gossip that add further light to this issue:
When we talk to the right person, use self-awareness and self-control, notice how our actions might lead to triangles, and handle gossip well we can keep those destructive triangles at bay.
I’d say it’s up to each of us to make choices that help our relationships to feel as warm and inviting as a day on a pink Bermuda beach. What would you say?