Check out Blog Post 2 of 9 in the series on coaching by clicking here The problem is not the problem to get the most out of this weeks post.

Very often the problem presented by the coachee is a third person.

“The triangle is the basic building block of an emotional system. The characteristics of all triangles are the same, whether in a family system, an emotional system at work or a social system. A triangle is in constant motion with moves that operate automatically like emotional reflexes, and that are so predictable that one can precisely predict the next move in the system.”  Murray Bowen

When anxiety in a two-person relationship exceeds a certain threshold one or both will seek out a third person to “triangle” into the conflict. The coachee comes to the coach with a story “about” the third person. If the coach can remain neutral and stay connected to both sides of the triangle the problem in the original twosome will resolve.

The job of the coach in this situation is to help the coachee reflect on their part of the problem. To foster greater Responsibility in the coachee, the coach uses the skills of Listening, Questioning and taking “I’ Positions.

Listening: Tell me more.

Questioning: How much of what you’re telling me right now have you told to ….?

I-Positions: I’m interested in helping you to think through this problem.

Watch out for Automatic Functioning

It is easy to get caught in triangles. This is especially true if the coach has the same “feelings” toward the person being talked about. The temptation to join in on the Attack can be very strong. But like that second piece of chocolate cake the feeling good doesn’t last as long as the extra weight you carry. Leave the emotional weight of conflict between two others where it belongs.

It is easy to get caught in triangles. This is also true if the coachee has a strong affinity toward the person being talked about. In this situation, it can be easy to Defend the absent person. This defense comes at the expense of the relationship connection between yourself and the coachee. There are no heroes or villains, just people with vulnerabilities and strengths.

It is easy to avoid triangles. This occurs when tension goes up between two others and you find yourself very uncomfortable being triangled into the conflict. Instead of avoiding the conflict – avoid your tendency to Run Away by changing the subject or happying-up the conversation. In order for the coach to influence resolution of the conflict, he/she must stay connected to both parties while remaining neutral and objective. It is predictable that if you do not manage yourself within the triangle and run-away the anxiety will find another relief valve. If this relief valve (another third person) doesn’t have the capacity to manage the anxiety yet another person can become triangled in, and on and on. A relationship problem that you avoided can end up infecting the entire organization.

Triangles, like wolves,  are not good or bad. They are a fact of nature. Work to manage yourself within them. I endeavor to integrate this principle into all of my coaching/leadership interactions: Don’t Attack, Defend or Run-Away.

Next week will be the final post in a 9-part series on coaching … Are you ready?