A True Story

The company had struggled financially from the beginning. But, under the leadership of the new president, the small business was thriving. The company was out of the red and into the black. The wages and benefits of all the employees had increased significantly. Everyone was excited about the future potential. As a result of the success, a decision regarding the direction of the company came to the forefront. Did the company expand to a new and uncharted market or continue to grow and build an even stronger financial foundation?

Because of the recent volatility of the local economy, the president believed building a stronger foundation at least for the present was the best option. In contrast, one of the managers thought expanding the company in a new, exciting direction was the best direction.

Instead of talking directly to the president in the group discussions, the manger made the decision to talk despairingly to the other managers about the leadership of the president.

Triangles occur in relationships when person A has a conflict with person B and chooses to talk with person C rather than person B. What often motivates person A to talk to person C is the attempt by person A to manage his or her own emotional comfort. Person A’s conflict is with person B, not with person C. So it is much more emotionally comfortable for person A to speak with person C.

Triangles - Larry S Barber

Negative Consequences of the Triangulation Strategy

  1. As mentioned, person A’s conflict is with person B. Speaking with person C does not help toward resolving person A’s conflict with person B. The focus of person A going to person C is typically on viewing person B as being the problem. Consequently, person A does not really have to look at their contribution to the conflict. Focusing on the other person as the problem can be a way of distracting oneself from the discomfort of seeing his or her own contribution to the conflict. Since comfort is the primary motivation in triangles, person A involving person C focusing on person B, person A has accomplished the goal of managing his or her comfort level.

  2. It is too easy for person A when speaking to person C about person B to put themselves in a good light and person B in a negative light. This is usually a distortion. Though individuals may respond differently to conflict, each person generally has a part.

  3. When putting person B in a negative light person A is asking person C to accept the notion that person A is the better person than person B. Person A is asking person C to side with him or her against person B. This is destructive to relationships.

  4. Person A’s request to talk with person C about person B puts person C in a very awkward position. When person A comes to person C and complains about person B, this creates an implicit threat that if person C doesn’t agree with person A, person A could go speak with person D about person C.

  5. Typically, when person A goes to person C, person A presents a compelling case to person C about person B. So much so, that it may be difficult to disagree with or go against. Even if person C may know different they may not want to experience the discomfort of their own conflict with person A.

  6. One of the common reasons for person A to talk with person C is to solicit support and validation for their own behavior or perspective. By establishing an alliance with person C against person B, person A has created a gulf between all parties involved and has destroyed trust within the group or organization. Again, person A will likely not learn much about their contribution from the conflict with person B. In addition, by going to person C about their conflict with person B, person A has created additional conflict for himself or herself with person C.

  7. The motivation for person A to speak with person C instead of person B is usually personal comfort instead of personal growth. Personal grow usually is the result of some discomfort.

  8. When person A speaks with person C about person B, it creates a culture of fear and mistrust.

  9. It could be helpful if person A was genuinely asking person C for insight into his or her own behavior or perspective.


Before you initiate a triangle or are being asked to participate in one, stop and think about what you really want for yourself and your relationships. The choices you make in response to conflict in your relationships matter and always have consequences. Triangles create division among community. They create a culture of distrust and fear. They are ways individuals hide from there own fears and fail to take responsibility for what they are responding to inside themselves.

In contrast, if you go directly to the person you have a conflict with there is a chance for both of you to grow in your understanding of yourselves and each other. There is potential that you may have more in common than you realize.