We have a really fun term in the therapy world: triangulation. I’ve written about the concept before, but I’ll refresh your memories–triangulation happens when two people “bring” a third party into a discussion, argument, or conflict in order to ease the tension or avoid the conflict altogether. Have you ever been angry with a co-worker, spouse, or friend, but didn’t want to confront that person directly? Isn’t it easier to tell someone ELSE about the conflict and let them solve it for you?

That’s triangulation.

Just this week, I had the opportunity to watch it happen–in my own home! Now that we’re renting for a year in Hawaii, we live in the top-portion of a large home, and another family lives below (not unusual here). But, our neighbors down below are collectors of “junk,” let’s just say. And, we get to look at it from our balcony.

What’s my husband’s first reaction? Tell the landlord of course!

conflict resolved question and answer selection design

But, is that really the best course of action? Why can’t we address the issue with our neighbors down below in-person? What’s so scary about asking them to clean up their junk collection?

It’s scary because most of us don’t like conflict. It makes us feel uncomfortable. And, it’s just easier to have someone do it for us.

Unfortunately, triangulating the conflict feels really bad to the other party. If we tell the landlord about the junk, wouldn’t that feel embarrassing for our neighbors? Won’t they feel angry at us now?

Look, I get it–addressing conflict is difficult. But, triangulating the conflict just “freezes” the conflict in place and, ultimately creates more conflict.

So, the next time you’re tempted to “bring” another person into your conflict, think again. Addressing conflict isn’t so scary–it’s necessary to move forward.


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