Does this sound familiar?  You have just left a meeting and are headed back to your office to get some important work completed when one of your team members needs to talk to you. He wants to complain about another employee, one of your team members.  He may be a peer or subordinate and he is always complaining and venting to you. I call this communication triangulation when a third party takes on the ownership of communicating for two other parties.

Finally the time has come that you’ve grown tired of the complaints as it is counterproductive and wasting your time on the more important. How did it get to this point and now, more importantly, how do you stop the madnesss?

First you need to recognize that you are part of the problem since you have allowed a co-worker to use you as the potential communication conduit to a third party. You may have just listened to them vent and responded with an “I understand”. Or even worse, you actually carried the communication to the third party. Bottom line is if this has been going on for awhile, you have been a party to this bad communication behavior.

So now that you have come to the conclusion, that the time spent with this person is time wasted,  and that you need to be a part of the solution, what next?

The first step is to ask the question “what” to the person.

What do you need to do about your problem with…?  What holds you back from talking to…? Get them to own the issue, not you. Here is where you need to show that you care but also be clear that this issue is not yours and that it is their responsibility to repair the problem.

Leadership tip: Ask a lot of  what and how questions and listen intently. And, don’t provide the solution.

Asking questions and listening to them will demonstrate to the person you really want to understand and this process will help them to explore potential solutions that don’t involve you.

The second step is to get them to commit to resolving the issue without your intervention. During your questioning process, there were probably a number of communication processes they identified as possible solutions.  Have them make a decision on which alternative they plan on using and when they plan on completing the process.

Leadership Tip:  When a person identifies their own options to solve a problem then their commitment with the option they chose is much stronger than if you provide them with a solution.

Next time someone starts complaining to you about another employee, follow this easy two step process to get them to own the problem as well as the solution.

Who on your team can you practice these techniques to stop communication triangulation?