I know the culture of a team is at risk when communication gets triangulated. When the leader is hearing about gripes from someone other than the originating griper. In other words, when gossip starts rearing it’s ugly head. I call it Triangle Talk.
Fostering transparent, authentic, open, respectful and productive communication on your team is THE BEST THING you can do as a leader. Whether you are a team of 2 or 50, the first thing you need to do to turn things around on your team is to make sure that people are trained and willing to have direct conversations with you and each other.
One of my clients had a big problem with this. They were constantly hearing about frustrations from their team members through other team members. They were also hearing about frustrations that one team member was having with another. It was like siblings telling on each other and she was caught in the middle. It’s exhausting, unproductive and stressful.
At it’s core, leadership is taking responsibility for the care and nurturing of other human beings. Part of that care and nurturing is creating an environment where people feel safe saying the things that need to be said. To you and to each other. Making sure this happens can get lost in the day to day running of your business and that’s when the Triangle Talk can surface.
So, what do you do when you start noticing Triangle Talk?
Clarify your stance. And if you’ve never talked about it before, try this out: “I don’t think I’ve talked about this before, but on our team I expect people to communicate directly with each other about frustrations or concerns. If you need me to help out, I expect one of you to reach out to me and it shouldn’t be a surprise to the other person that you are bringing me in.” This, of course, would be said after you have already let them know that you heard them and can appreciate their frustration.
Get the right two people together. If someone is coming to you talking about someone else direct them to the source of their frustration: “That sounds frustrating, have you talked with them about this?” If they haven’t, they need to be held accountable to go talk to that person…or quit complaining. If someone is coming to you because others are complaining about YOU tell them “Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I definitely want to clear this up. Please encourage them to come talk to me about it.”
Be the example. Have hard conversations with your team members. If you are frustrated with one of your team members, have a conversation with them (privately!) right away, even if it makes you uncomfortable. One of the best things you can do is tell someone how you are really feeling. Starting with something like “Listen, I need to talk with you about something and I’m feeling a little awkward about it, so bear with me.” Being vulnerable and real is a great first step and tells them that you will grant them that grace in return.
All of this reminds me of a quote from Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, by Simon Sinek:
“If certain conditions are met and the people inside an organization feel safe among each other, they will work together to achieve things none of them could have ever achieved alone. The result is that their organization towers over their competitors.”
And isn’t that why you have a team anyway, so you can all do better than you could alone? When you create a culture that supports productive communication, there’s no telling where you all can go.
Have you had Triangle Talk on your team? What did you do about it?