When functional people have something to say, they say it to you. When dysfunctional people have something to say, they may tell someone else instead.
Triangulation is the act of telling a third party something that should be delivered straight to the person involved.
There are two kinds of triangulation:
Well-meaning triangulation is often a response to a dysfunctional person or environment. If employees are working under a toxic supervisor, or if a family member flies off the handle when asked not to be disrespectful of others, then triangulation among the rest is more likely to occur, because people feel like they can’t speak freely without undue negative consequences. It’s still important to try to avoid triangulation; however, it’s harder not to when the situation doesn’t support healthy behavior.
People raised in dysfunctional families who haven’t worked through their issues yet can often triangulate out of habit or out of fear, or based on the assumption that there aren’t healthy alternatives. In these cases, the triangulation may be happening because the environment is dysfunctional, or it may be happening because the environment is assumed to be dysfunctional. In either case, the person who is doing the triangulating generally means well, but hasn’t yet overcome the dysfunctional pattern of triangulation.
Ill-intentioned triangulation comes from a toxic person who is manipulating. It serves this triangulator best to have others involved in their toxic drama games. In these cases, the triangulation is little more than a tool used to drag the most people possible into the toxic swirl of their schemes as possible. Telling third (and fourth, and fifth) parties brings them more power or more gratification than it does to work toward the resolution of any issues.
It is helpful to remember that there are two kinds of people in the world – those whose intentions are good and who may be involved in dysfunction because they haven’t yet broken through the bad patterns of behavior (and moreso when the environment doesn’t support healthier interaction), and those who create and maintain the bad patterns in the first place because it gratifies them to manipulate in order to get what they want and/or to and make others feel bad. The ill-intentioned triangulator is the second type, and commonly has traits of the 4 high-conflict personality disorders:
Triangulators require a willing and interactive listening party, so you can avoid becoming caught in the middle of things if you accept no third-party information or at least do not pass it along. Asking a triangulator if they’ve discussed the matter in question with the person they’re not happy with can be helpful. Suggesting that if they don’t raise the issue with the other person, they’ll never get the issue resolved can be helpful as well. That way, they can’t really complain to you any longer. Your response can always be, “Well, if you haven’t told them about it, they can’t help you with that.”
Avoid saying anything that may give them the impression that you’ll pass the information along to anyone. Make sure the triangulator knows that you’re an interpersonal “dead end” that has nothing to offer them. If doing so doesn’t stop them immediately and completely, it will at least discourage them and get them looking elsewhere for someone to put in the middle.
Join us next time, when we’ll be discussing the four things you possess that manipulators try to gain control of.