January 2008
Vestry Meetings

Triangulation: vestries be mindful

In human interactive terms, a triangle occurs when each of two opposing parties seeks to join with a third party against the other, with the third party finding it necessary to cooperate now with one and now with another of these opposing parties. Triangulation works like this:

  • A has a grievance against C (whether valid or invalid), but instead of going directly to C, A instead talks to B about it. 
  • A wants B to confront C but without telling C that it is A who has the grievance. In this scenario, A wields power over C (unidentified discontent) and B (manipulation). B wields power over C because for C to get to a resolution with A, C must go through B.
How to handle triangulation: 
  • B should encourage A to talk to C and state her concerns personally
  • Alternatively, B should lovingly tell A that he will go with her to C, or that B will be happy to convey A’s concerns to C but that B will need to reveal A’s identity to C because he is sure that C will want to discuss these concerns with A. In any event, B should not carry A’s message anonymously.
  • Lay the ground rules, starting that we don’t communicate anonymous messages. Period. If A wishes to remain anonymous, the complaint goes unreported. Healthy leaders never play the triangulation game.

Reprinted from Beyond Business as Usual by Neal O. Michell, with permission from Church Publishing.

This article is part of the January 2008 Vestry Papers issue on Vestry Meetings