The Power of 3, or When Really Smart People Do Dumb Stuff

There are many times in my work where I see the power of collaboration. The times when two is better than one. And three is better than two.

And, like all things good, there is a shadow side. There’s a thing in psychology (because when we talk about humans we can’t help but talk about psychology) called Triangulation. And when I see this in my clients’ organizations, while I’m fairly sure the intention is not to manipulate, that is, in fact, what Triangulation attempts to do. Triangulation is an approach, where rather than communicating directly with someone (person one), person two person pulls in person three to either communicate through or commiserate with about the person one. Rarely do problems get solved, nor do relationships flourish when this approach is used. In almost all cases, time is wasted, problems are magnified, and relationships are damaged. This is the dark side of the power of 3.

If you recognize this behavior (come on, most of us have done this at some point in our lives!!), here’s what I suggest you do.

STOP IT!  Replace it with a productive power of 3.

  1. Slow down enough to notice you are worried about or frustrated with another person (let’s call him David) and you need help thinking your way through it. (This is where you should step away from your phone and NOT send that inflammatory text)
  2. Find someone who you believe can be objective – not the person who will take your side and make David wrong. Let’s call her Susan.
  3. Ask Susan to help you think through the best way to speak directly to David, and make the commitment that you will go to David directly after your conversation with Susan (maybe not immediately, but within a reasonable amount of time.

Important note: Sometimes (ok, maybe all the time!) the process will include a short venting session. Short because too much time puts your brain back on high alert and inhibits creative thinking. And long enough to name the emotion to tame your brain (take it off high alert)

  1. Brainstorm different perspectives. What might be another way to look at this situation? Think about the questions you have. Get clear on your intentions for the work situation and for your relationship with David.
  2. Thank Susan. Her role in this is over.
  3. Go back to David and have the conversation.

Notice what becomes possible when you communicate directly rather than stewing in your own juices or triangulating.

And congratulations on asking for help, further developing your leadership capabilities, and for modeling a productive way forward when conflict occurs.  Excellent work!