One of the easiest ways to irreparably damage your business is to foster a culture that enables workplace conflict. When you knock out unhealthy conflict you will find that morale and productivity improve. Surprisingly, a simply triangle can be used to immense effect to reduce negative conflict.

Nearly 50 years ago Stephen Karpan introduced the idea of the drama triangle. In the workplace this phenomenon has become popularized as triangulation. With triangulation, there are 3 primary roles, as shown in the figure below.

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With triangulation there are 3 main players:
1. The victim is the person who feels slighted or wronged
2. The persecutor is the person that made him or her feel that way
3. The rescuer is the individual that the victim goes to for help

Triangulation is often learned at an early age, and young children are masters of it. If two siblings have an argument over a toy, for example, the “victim” will often run to a parent for rescue. At work, however, the consequences are much more damaging.

To illustrate, let’s use the triangle above. Jim (the victim) has an issue with John (the persecutor). In an attempt to address the problem, Jim goes to Jane (the rescuer) for help. Jane feels an obligation to improve the situation, and subsequently talks to John about the problem. Meanwhile, John didn’t even know that Jim had this concern, and he becomes upset with him. John begins to ruminate over this and begins acting passive aggressively towards Jim.

As you can imagine, this situation plays out daily in the workplace, and the outcomes are never positive. Roles can quickly evolve; the persecutor, for example, might fall into a victim role if the action taken by the rescuer is upsetting. The new victim then tries to find their own rescuer, resulting in even more people involved. Meanwhile, the original situation was never addressed and is still simmering. As you can see, triangulation creates a vicious cycle that results in a toxic working environment.

Using a rescuer in essence shifts the responsibility from you to someone else, taking away your sense of ownership. One of the most powerful outcomes of avoiding triangulation is that it ends this and removes you from feeling like a helpless victim. You instead feel empowered to address and solve your problems, enabling you to further build your confidence.

To avoid triangulation, follow the path of the green arrow and engage in a conversation with the other person. Even if the two of you cannot resolve the situation, at least everything is on the table for open discussion. You can then find someone together who can serve as an impartial mediator to help navigate the issue.

Next time you have an issue with another individual - whether a coworker, employee, boss, or even family member - pause for a moment before running to someone else. Instead, try taking it up directly with the person. You will be glad you did. When triangulation is avoided you will find a great workplace that is centered on openness, trust, and an assumption of good intent.