Conversational Triangles

Have you heard of conversational triangles? Avoid damaging your good relationships by learning tips on how to avoid them.

What is a Conversational Triangle?

You know that moment when you really unhappy with someone, you wish they were behaving differently. You wish you could do things that you used to be able to do and you can't do now. And you don't talk to the person who matters. You talk to somebody else, someone outside the situation who has really no influence. That's a conversational triangle because that third person can only listen.

You might say, "so what's wrong chatting with my friends?" There is nothing wrong, having lots of good friends and connections. However, if you're wanting to actually solve that problem, or fix that concern, the question is, are you talking with your friend to make yourself feel better, complain about the other person, tell yourself how right you are? If that's the case, you're in a conversational triangle. On the other hand, if you're talking with your friend say, "What can I do? How can I fix this?" That's great conversation. And that's a useful one.

Conversational Triangles: the Positions

In a conversational triangle, you're going to be in one of three positions. The first position is going to be being the unhappy person, the person with a dilemma or something that's not working for you. The second position is being the focus of that unhappiness. And the third position is being the listener.

The First Position: The Unhappy Person

If you're unhappy, and talking to a listener, then I've got a couple of questions for you. What is the quality of that conversation? Is it a conversation that you're having, because you have it with them every time you see them. And it's constantly the same conversation or variations of the same thing. And you go over it and over it, you're caught in a conversational triangle.

On the other hand, if your conversation with your listener is about "how do I solve this? what am I going to do? How could I address this? And I'll let you know when I have." You're not caught in a conversational triangle, and that's fantastic.

The Second Position: The Source

If you're the second person, who was the focus of the unhappiness, truthfully, you might have no idea. You don't read minds. In fact, nobody reads minds. All you can do is possibly observe their behaviour, and listen well to them and reflect back to them what you're seeing, which might give you a clue as how they're feeling. And it might also open a door for a conversation.

The Third Position: The Listener

If you’re the listener, then you have quite a bit of power in a conversational triangle. You have a role to either perpetuate it, for example: "keep telling me more, oh, wow. Isn't the person who is the focus of the problem terrible! Aren't you justified in feeling unhappy?" You can support that triangle and make it really strong and rigid. Or you can reflect back what you're observing, and possibly even gently ask questions like, "wow, I wonder what you could do with that. I wonder what resources you can bring in to help solve this dilemma that you've got."

Avoid getting stuck

In summary, talking with your friends is really important. And especially talking about the things that are hard, because there are lots of hard things about caring. And when you've talked about these hard things, what's really important is then to act, to change, alter the situation that's causing you so much distress. What is not okay is to keep talking and talking and talking to the person who is not part of the problem. When you go round and around the triangle, then you are stuck. And the situation will only get worse and worse, you will become more unhappy. The person you're unhappy about or with probably has no idea and you may even alienate your friend, if you keep being stuck in a conversational triangle.

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