Managing Conflict Triangles


Most of us would not find it hard to think of an example of a time when someone has come to us to vent about someone else. Have you ever tried to help and found things got a little messier? You are not alone.


Here’s a simple scenario: Jim walks into your office to vent about a concern he has with Sara.

There are two very common responses to a scenario like this that can get you in to trouble by creating more lines of tension:



  1. Be the Hero

You find Jim’s concern to be reasonable; you want to be helpful and you ‘take up the cause’ and make a plan to talk to Sara at the end of the day.  Your goal is to ‘fix the problem’.

  • The trouble is, when you go talk to Sara, she seems rather defensive. She expresses frustration that you always take Jim’s side. You now have a line of tension with Sara.
  1. Leave them Hanging

Jim is sounding a little whiney to you. You hear that he is upset but you know Sara has a lot on her plate and you let Jim know that it might be best if cut Sara some slack.

  • Jim seemed rather quiet and left your office. You later hear him talking to someone else in the lunch room about how you minimized his concern and were not helpful.  You now have a line of tension with Jim.






There is hope!  Try the third way!


  1. Resist the urge to either be the hero or run away, instead:
  • Listen and show empathy

(You don’t have to agree with Jim’s concern; you want to show him that you have heard him and you understand he is upset.)

  • Remain non-anxious

(This is Jim’s concern with Sara so be present with him instead of worrying about your response.)

  • Facilitate and support rather than take over or avoid

(Encourage Jim to think about how he might want to address his concern and what support he might need.  For example, he may feel that he’s not comfortable approaching Sara on his own or may want you to check in with him after he approaches her.)

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