Orrin Woodward LIFE Leadership Team

Winner of the 2011 Independent Association of Business Top Leader Award; Orrin Woodward shares his leadership secrets.

Communication Triangulation

Posted by Orrin Woodward on August 27, 2011

One of the TEAM differences is our culture of conflict resolution. When leaders have issues with one another (a given in our fallen world) we teach a 5 step process of conflict resolution. This process works every time two leaders of character practice the process. Indeed, the only time I have seen this process fail is when one or both leaders lack the courage to follow it. For when they refuse to follow the conflict resolution process, communication triangulation results, leaving friendships and communities to suffer the consequences from the alleged leaders lack of humility. This is a portion of the chapter on conflict resolution in my upcoming book RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions for LIFE. If anyone has an issue with me or TEAM, there is an email help line similar to Amazon’s help desk. All reasonable concerns are addressed promptly as always. This is the only way to build tens of thousands into communities. Sincerely, Orrin Woodward

Communication Triangulation


When dealing with conflict, don’t fall victim to communication triangulation, a vile process where people attempt to draw others into gossip from their unresolved conflict.  As Joseph Stowell writes, “The ‘juicy morsels’ stay with us, permanently staining our perceptions of and appreciation for those about whom we are hearing. The vicious chain of gossip continues until it finally comes up against someone willing to stop spreading information about feuding factions and start praying. Only then will the fire die down.” Why would anyone willingly choose to help assassinate one of his friends by listening to gossip? Unless a person is asking another to help mediate a resolution, in which the mediator hears both sides of the story, the person is simply gossiping, no matter what the gossiper’s claimed intentions. Instead of falling victim to this sickness, follow the process described by Kibbie Ruth and Karen McClintock, of Alban.org, keeping the focus on resolving conflict, not furthering gossiping and taking sides:

While people often suggest that venting is good for the soul, it is actually not very productive. Venting to someone about a third person is simply an avoidance technique that creates what is known in counseling theory as a relationship triangle, or triangulation. Triangulation is talking about feelings, opinions, or personal issues regarding some person or group with a third party instead of with the person or group actually concerned. Relationship triangles usually involve three people who each take one of three roles: victim, persecutor, and rescuer. Once in a triangle, people change places among its three points. The only way to stop the triangulation is for each person to communicate his or her feelings, concerns, or opinions directly to the other.

Of course, the best communication strategy is to avoid being recruited into a triangle in the first place. But so often well-intentioned faith leaders and congregants listen to another person’s concerns, feelings, or opinions, then realize they inadvertently let themselves be co-opted into involvement, sometimes even taking sides. Once in a triangle, escape may take some courage and clarity but is possible. The triangulated person can redirect the other person straight to the appropriate individual or committee—the one actually involved in the personal issues or the one that can address the concern or mend the relationship. A three-way conversation sometimes helps, but only if the third party facilitates without taking sides or having an agenda, without speaking for one of the other parties, and without adding to the emotional drama.

The gossiper quickly learns that communication triangulation isn’t condoned in the community, and that if the gossiper refuses to go directly to the person he has gossiped about then he will be called out by being quoted. This does two key things. First, it let’s everyone know that one isn’t a gossiper. Second, by protecting the party not present, one builds trust throughout the organization, as others know that one will do the same for them when needed.  Through these actions a person displays his scorn for gossipers, refusing to be drawn in to a foolish losing triangulation game. Only through addressing conflict directly does the merry-go-round of gossip and lies end. Organizations cannot thrive in a negative environment, therefore, the gossiping garbage must be cleaned out of, not cultivated within, one’s community.

5 Responses to “Communication Triangulation”

  1. Orrin,

    Thank you for sharing such great thoughts with some of us who would like to help the world around us improve. Its awesome to be involved with a group that is focused on getting results and success based on improving yourself and others, rather than on knocking others down. You are an awesome encourager (the story of the dog)! Do you have a time frame, yet, for when the book is going to be out?

    Thanks,
    Adam Rossman

  2. Michele said

    Awesome and greatly appreciated. It makes me stop and think and review my actions, and make sure my actions follow by persception of myself of not being a gossiper. Not as clean as perceived.

  3. Thank you Orrin, for spelling out triangulation. To help keep me ever aware of my purpose and function within a conversation. I have used your technique on occasion, when someone is basically gossiping, and have asked them “Can I quote you on that?”
    Thanks also for your conflict resolution CD. I’m sure I could stand to listen to it yet again.
    God bless,
    John Graff

  4. […] It is a foundational truth from all TEAM LIFE‘s Top 5 Books list.  Orrin wrote about it in Communication Triangulation, stating open communication, particularly among leaders, is essential for healthy communities to […]

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