The Scourge  of Triangular Communication

I wrote a few weeks ago about what I call “Whispered Thoughts,” those quiet little hallway conversations that are intended to be private but seldom are. They do great damage to an organization and the people involved, both the whisperer and the whispered to.

Triangular Communication is even worse. People often whisper their thoughts as a way of venting, they often mean no harm even though they can cause great harm. Triangular Communication is strategic, it is at best misguided and at worst intentionally destructive. 

Here’s one example of what Triangular Communication looks like in the workplace. Let’s say “the boss” tells me to do something and I think it’s wrong, stupid, or I just don’t want to do it. I want the boss to know but I don’t have the courage to say it directly. So I decide, yes, it’s a conscious choice, to triangularly communicate. 

I find “a pal,” who I can share my opinion with. I have to choose this person very carefully, they must have one outstanding quality, there can be no compromise on this particular quality. They must absolutely agree with me. 

The last thing I need is for this person to agree with is “the boss” and stop my negative momentum.  I need this person to reinforce my thoughts and opinions about whatever it is I think is stupid or wrong. 

I also need this person to tell someone else what I think. It would close the triangular communication sooner if they told the boss directly but it doesn’t really matter who they tell. Eventually they will tell someone who will tell the boss and my triangular communication will be complete. Maybe it’s someone who they told that will tell someone who will tell the boss but it’s all the same, the message got back to the boss and that’s what I needed. 

If that last sentence is hard to follow then good, because that’s how I intended it to be. Triangular Communication takes what should be a straight-forward conversation and turns it inside out and upside down. Look at the mess this just caused, I polluted at least one person’s attitude; they almost certainly polluted others and it just goes on and on. Triangular Communication just possibly might be the greatest productivity killer in any business or organization today.

Triangular Communication might start more rumors in organizations and businesses than any other thing we could say or do. That’s because as my “message” is passed from one person to another it changes. It goes from “the boss doesn’t think I sharpen my axe often enough” to “the boss is an axe murderer” in a few brief exchanges. 

No matter how many people became involved in my triangle only two people could resolve the issue, that would be me and “the boss.” 

Now it might not be the boss at the top of the triangle, it could be a co-worker, spouse, family member, almost anyone. All that is required is the “you” in the triangle to lack the courage to speak directly to the person at the top of it. It also helps if you just don’t give a rip about the collateral damage you cause while communicating in such a childish manner.

If you can’t muster the courage to speak up then find the courage to keep quiet. You and everyone around you will be better off for your effort, no matter which one you choose.