Here's the catch: By taking the bait and addressing the situation, you have let your direct report off the hook for handling their issue, AND allowed your direct report to assign that task to you. That is triangulation and how it works. How can you stop being triangulated by your staff? By using these situations as coaching opportunities, and incorporating the following four steps:
- Listen, and listen well. You definitely want to listen to what your direct report is saying, and what they are not saying. Pay attention to body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. These will clue you in to the underlying emotional triggers.
- Acknowledge the emotion and separate it from the facts of the situation. There is always emotion attached a conflict situation. Be sure to listen for both the facts and the emotion. Acknowledge that the emotion exists, and separate it from the facts of the situation. Discuss each of them separately.
- Ask the right questions. The key to facilitating the growth and development of your direct report is to ask the right questions. As a manager your first instinct is to provide solutions and give direction. However, this does not help your direct report to grow and develop professionally. Ask open-ended questions to get them thinking about solutions and strategies for how to handle things going forward. A few examples of coaching questions are:
- What would make things better?
- What would you like to see changed?
- What is your comfort level with addressing the issue with your team mate?
- What makes you uncomfortable about addressing the issue?
- What happens if you do not address the issue?
- How will you know this issue has been resolved?
- What steps can you put in place to ensure this issue does not come up again?
- How will you handle it the next time this issue comes up?
- When would you like to have this conversation with your team mate?
- What exactly would you like to say to your team mate?
- Mediate when necessary. Give your staff the opportunity to address the issue one-on-one. You may be surprised to see how quickly they come to a resolution. If the discussion results in an impasse, step in and mediate.
There are benefits to incorporating these four steps. First, it prevents you from being triangulated. Second, it ensures the task of addressing the issue is left where it belongs -- with your direct report.
Triangulation happens in all aspects of our lives. When was the last time you wound up in a triangulation situation and wondered how you got there?