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triangles_20pernrose_20borromee_1_Have you ever felt like you were pulled into the role of a third-party to a conflict you had no intention of joining?   The phenomenon is called triangulation and happens regularly in most of our lives.   Triangulation can take a couple of different forms.   One person could be designated as the messenger between two others or designated as the communicator between the other two (the go-between). Or, a form of “splitting” takes place, with one person (person A) playing the third person (person C) against the family member or coworker (person B) that they are upset with.   This is playing two people against each other and the person doing the “splitting” usually assassinates both characters in the process.

Triangulation in the workplace is an unproductive behavior that chips away at the culture.   It can be indirect and subtle, therefore, difficult to manage.   And, if you are the triangulator, it’s worse, because you are largely unaware.    If you were raised or work without awareness in such an environment you may not know any differently and continue perpetuating unintentionally.

The best place to combat this behavior is at home.   By recognizing, not tolerating and ultimately educating on such behaviors, we can send better prepared workers to recognize occurrences of triangulation and combat them at the root.

Here are some signs it is happening in your household:

  • Two stories: Kids regularly tell mom one thing and dad another, and reactions are based solely on the child communication without checking with the other parent.   The child quickly learns they control the environment and raises the levels as their cognitive abilities grow.
  • Two styles: If one parent is strict and the other is lenient, the lenient parent might over compensate for the behavior of the stricter parent.   The child gravitates to the easier parent and creates the image of the “bad guy”.
  • Conflict or divorce:   These are situations ripe with triangulation possibilities.   If there is conflict under one roof, the child feels the strain to pick sides.   Worse, parents start to communicate their partner frustrations and splitting occurs. In divorce household, these problems can be magnified.
  • Blended families:   Now introduce even more parents (people) into the mix and the complexity grows.

From all the scenarios above, imagine them in the workplace.   It isn’t too hard to do.   Ideas to avoid or reset triangulatory behaviors are:

  • Explain:   Some degree of conflict is normal and expected.   Explain this and teach how to address the upsetting situation or words directly with the person in conflict.   Using a third-party is not an option.
  • Don’t interject:   If it is between siblings, let some of the little conflicts get resolved by themselves.   Teach that tattling and complaining does not fix the problem and don’t reinforce that by listening to endless chatter about another child.   Tell the child to explain the problem, offer solutions to resolve and move on.
  • Bite your tongue:   Easier said than done. If a manager talks to employees about other employees, triangulation will be seen as acceptable and part of the culture. The same is true at home.   Don’t let yourself get pulled into the triangle and rise to the occasion.   The occasions will be presented and you will be tested.
  • Don’t be a third corner (of the triangle):  The best way to cut off the behavior is to not participate in the behavior.   Don’t feed the problem.   As hard as it is to not engage, don’t.



Baby steps.

Photo credit:  Celeste Johnson

Photo credit: Celeste Johnson

I snapped this photo with my iPhone when I was in Bratislava, Slovakia.   The little boy is standing on what was formerly a military bunker in the Iron Curtain zone along the Danube River, across from Austria. What I assume is grandpa, is a person that remembers a much different time.   A worse time.   The little boy has no idea what came before him and finds the old, bullet ridden bunker a fun piece of playground equipment.   I don’t know these people and this picture hangs in my office as a profound reminder to me that the world can and does get better.


I believe the workplace gets better too and generation Z will find some fantastic opportunities there.

Here are some human resource changes and laws that are improving the workplace for the next generation of workers:

  • Diversity and equality protections:   There are laws such as Title VII that make it illegal for employers to discriminate and most companies have recognized and embraced the value of diversity in the workplace.   Our grandparents faced this challenges, our kids will find it less so.
  • Ability to work from anywhere: Technology has changed the working landscape.   Many jobs are now capably of being accomplished from anywhere.   A web designer can log in from the lodge at the ski resort and an accountant can audit and file tax returns from their own living room.   Not every job will move in this direction but if a person wishes to seek out a remote career, the possibilities are there.
  • Rewards that align with values: This Harvard Business Review article talks about how companies are understanding how to convey their value and be rewarding to the workers, not just the shareholders.   This can be accomplished through open communication, recognizing strengths and allowing for individual ownership in jobs.   These types of employers exist today and are becoming more prevalent.
  • The entrepreneurial spirit:   According to this article from Forbes only 13% of Millennials want to climb the corporate ladder, whereas 67% want to start their own business.   This is exciting!
  • Green technologies: Caring for the environment is not new, but doing so through company policy is.   The next generation workforce will not only seek out green policies, they will expect it.
  • Wage and hour laws: Wage and hour laws are strict and nearly all employers comply.   The days of misclassification and avoidance of overtime are diminishing.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility:  Companies are learning that doing work outside of the walls and into the community continues the cycle of good workers.   The Millennials are driving more of this and it will be part of business for Generation Z.
  • Self-Expression: Within the last 5 years I have seen more and more companies loosen their standard business professional dress policies.   There is wider acceptance to tattoos, piercings and hair colors.   These types of self-expression are no longer contained to niche industries but found in legal, medical and educational services as well.
  • Communication and information access: This drives all of the bullet points. Like no other time in history, communication is accessible and unlimited.   Our incoming workforce has grown up with technology and lives on information platforms online.   Companies can’t hide and will lose if they have ulterior motives or hidden agendas.   Instead, companies are embracing new transparencies and acting in everyone’s best interest and using that as their competitive strategy.

Retaining your kids.

Johnsons 2012. Photo credit:  Kristy Renee Behrs

Johnsons 2012.
Photo credit: Kristy Renee Behrs

Many of us hold organizational culture and the specific culture of our workplace in high regard.   If we are job seeking, we use tools like Glassdoor to help us peek inside  a potential employer and get the real scoop on culture.   When the culture is great, the business thrives.   Employees stay and A players send resumes to join the team.   A great culture isn’t a matter of luck or happenstance, it is great leaders that drive the beliefs that manifests into behaviors that are supportive, innovative and fun.   Consistently pay and shiny options are not at the top of the wish list for workers. Instead, it is culture.

How many of these workers, that believe in culture and make it their mission to seek certain jobs based on culture, go home to their families at night and “manage” with a completely different standard?   A manager may speak patiently, use manners, motivate and make constructive decisions during the day.   Then go home and bark orders, yell at family members and ask children what they want for dinner when the choice is in no one’s best interest.   Why?   Does this create future workers that will thrive and eventually lead their own organizations with enviable cultures?   No.   I am guilty of this too and if I were taking a moment to recalibrate, here is what I would try to do:

Define the mission:   It might be as simple as deciding dinner, or more complex like planning a trip.   Communicating the plan and gathering feedback gets buy-in.   Dictating orders does not.   Sound decision-making is what helped you professionally. Gathering ideas and input and making decisions that are focused and best for all is part of your job.   Then, does it make sense for your 3-year-old to tell you that they should eat macaroni and cheese again? Take control in the same collaborative and consistent way and keep the mission on course.

Communicate:   Sometimes the last thing I want to do is to remember to convey more information.   The list never, ever ends.   And I know that when the kids know what is coming and what we are planning, it all goes smoother.   Driving the vision at home is just an important as it is at work.

Speak kindly:   No one wants to work for someone who yells or over reacts.   A manager’s actions are under the microscope and the position does not forgive meltdowns.   Not one.   What if parents thought of their actions in terms of a manager and the kids were employees?   Would the daily characteristics change?   Would the parents act more “professionally?”   How we handle ourselves will be the direct lesson in how our children one day handle themselves at work.

Keep the turnover low:   Of course you won’t turnover your kids (though sometimes you want to).   But you can lose their engagement with the family at times.   Explore the cause.   If you kept losing good employees, would you start considering reasons?   Of course.   Your kids are the biggest investment of all and benefits can come from looking at the family from the perspective of the logical manager brain.

Mistakes happen:   When an employee comes to you and makes a mistake, are you forgiving?   Usually.   What about at home?   My kids have made a lot of mistakes.   I try to remember to tell myself that it isn’t the end of the world and not over react.   It is their mistake to make. Not mine.

People are waiting to join the team:   If I don’t think about the culture in my home, others will have a stronger influence.   There are a lot of people out there recruiting my kids and not all of them have the right motive.   Culture is powerful, whether it is positive or negative.   If the culture in the home is not worth staying for, eventually your kids will find another one…just like workers do in the workplace.

Rapid development.

The Johnsons.   Rogue River, Oregon 2012

The Johnsons. Rogue River, Oregon 2012

Each year we take our three kids on a multi-day white water raft trip.   Not the type of trip with a hotel stay and a little rafting during the day, but a fully contained raft carrying everything we need for 3 – 4 days with no access to roads or power.   These trips top the list of events we choose to do and create beautiful memories.   While thinking about the all different aspects of rafting, I realized there are lessons taking place.   Whether the kids know it or not, the skills they are obtaining on our family adventures in the remote world will one day be valuable to them in the working world.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Budgets and project planning:   Trips require an outlay of cash.   For a rafting trip, permits need to be obtained in advance and food and supplies need to be purchased.   Usually the trip involves an overnight stay on the way to the destination and fuel for the car. Very careful planning is required to ensure we have everything we will need.  There is no running to the store.   This is a great opportunity to involve children in understanding a budget, timelines, planning and contingent planning.
  • Rapids: White water rafting means there are rapids.   This requires several levels of teamwork.   River guide books read differently from other maps (they read from the bottom to top) which requires specialized skill sets and everyone has to watch the landscape and interpret what is coming up.  There are no mile markers or signs on a river.    Preparation for a rapid that we are not familiar with requires scouting and decisions of what to do based on risk; going through the rapid with dad or walking around.   This process of making sound decisions based on multiple variables is a future management tool that will guide their career.
  • Eddies: An eddy is a river formation that occurs usually when water hits an object like rocks and creates a calm part of the river.   Rafts can sit quietly in an eddy and get a break. Sometimes boaters use eddies to simply slow things down and figure out the next step.    When tensions mount at work, an “eddy” can give a person the opportunity to regroup and perhaps choose a two-part meeting, something I speak of in my blog “Stop Talking.”
  • Handling fear: On our river trips we have experienced getting stuck on rocks in the middle of river, severe weather and bears close to our camp.   Each occasion is a teaching lesson on how to handle fear and remain calm.   Kids look to the parents and read their actions.   The ability to face fears in the workplace in a rational manner is critical.
  • Limited resources: A multi day trip means that everything we need has to be on our raft, or we do without.   Each person understands how to ration the food and water and care for our critical supplies.   Nearly every company is going to have limited resources and workers have to understand how to work within their parameters.
  • Complaining gets you know where: Sometimes there is discomfort.   Our trips are well designed but we may get caught in a rainstorm, get attacked by mosquitos or have the wind working against us.   It is ok to be uncomfortable for a while and complaining about it does not solve the problem.   Often workers spend more time complaining than focusing on solutions.   Anyone that can redirect others toward solving problems, instead of perpetuating them, will be a positive asset.
  • Unplugged: The river means no power, no cell phones, no Wi-Fi and zero video games.   Not once, not one time,  did the kids ask about their devices or miss them.   Everyone needs to unplug once in a while and get off the grid.   Teaching your kids that you hold this time together in high regard means they will one day be workers that take meaningful vacations.

    The Johnsons.   Klamath River, California 2011

    The Johnsons. Klamath River, California 2011

  • Great stuff happens at sunrise:   Waking up with the sun, instead of an alarm clock, is living the best life.   Typically it is calm and peaceful.   Harvard Business Review did a study on morning people versus evening people.   While evening people did have some advantages, morning people tended to be smarter, more creative and have better sense of humor.   If regular life doesn’t allow your family to get up at sunrise, it is worth the special occasion of doing so on an adventure trip.   Someday they may be lucky enough to have a job that they can’t wait to get up for.

For kids, their worlds are small.   Any opportunity to take them on an adventure based trip, whether rafting, hiking, sailing or biking, is worth the effort to get there.   The lessons taught are far greater than texts and classrooms and also enormously important when they begin experiencing life away from home.

Not interested.

Not interested.

Not interested.

I am closing in on my last few weeks of my last two classes of graduate school and I am not interested.   It is not that I can’t see the value or have stopped learning.   It is that I am so close to the finish line, it is summer and I am exhausted.   I lack motivation right now.  Not the kind of lack-of-motivation that requires diagnosis from a professional, but the temporary kind that I complain about out loud with my glass of wine. And what makes it even harder is sometimes this lack motivation is at a time when I need it the most; to finish strong.

Does everyone experience this?   Why does this happen?   And for what reasons?

The answers are yes, because behaviors are complex and there are a variety of reasons.   Some of the reasons are:

  • Fear of the unknown.
  • Fear of failure.
  • More important things to do.
  • No incentive.
  • Stress overload
  • …and most important, not understanding or losing sight of the value.

The items listed above, while each possible, could ultimately be linked to the last one and weighed on a scale of cost versus value.   How much value is placed on the end result and is it worth the cost?   The definition of motivation is the reason one has for acting or behaving a certain way.   When value is connected (or sometimes not connected), the reasons become more clear.   When my kids lack motivation to take out the garbage, not much value is tied to doing the chore, so to them the cost is high (teenagers are lazy).   When in junior high and grades don’t relate to college yet, it is hard to have them believe in the value grades will have one day.   The “one day” is just too far away and their beliefs drive behavior.   The same is true for the grown-ups at work.   From time to time a person just doesn’t want to go see a client or is not interested in taking a project. The cost to the employee may weigh higher in their mind when the value to the company or them personally is unknown. Recognition of the behavior is key and forming a linear line to the value of the result helps to snap a person out of the lazy space.    Here are some ideas to re-motivate, be interested and get back on track quickly:

  • Get on the starting line:   I often try to mentally avoid exercise, until I get on the starting line.   Once I am there and ready to go, I work hard!   Don’t think about the whole project, program, chore, and task.   Do what it takes to start…then go from there.
  • Be a busy person:   You’ve heard the saying, “if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”   I have never been busier than these last two years during grad school and I have never accomplished more.   Kids tend to have down time, which is a good thing, but too much can promote laziness.   At work, does everyone have a full day?   Are they engaged in activities?
  • Get organized:   Any upcoming task that is being avoided will seem much more manageable if the work space or tools necessary are organized.   Bonus:   Being organized makes you feel good.   I like this blog post on the topic.
  • Refuel:   Find that thing that you love to do that checks you out for a while.   Positive/motivational website, pleasure reading, gardening, shopping, music, cooking or Jimmy Fallon Youtube videos like this one.  Give yourself permission to fully enjoy some down time.   Kids may not know how to do this, so help them with their creativity…but don’t fill in the gaps for them.

Lastly, link the value.   Jump to the end result of what is currently not interesting to you and weigh the options.   Is the result of exercising regularly valuable to me overall?   Yes.   Is continuing an exhaustive or toxic relationship with someone who doesn’t make my life better worth it?   Sounds like the cost is higher than the value.   Explaining to the kids that a clean home that they get to grow up in (plus consequences) has a higher value than the cost of doing the chore.   And, persevering for 4.5 more weeks to reach the overall goal of a MBA definitely has value.   A lot of value!

Give yourself a break, take a break and then start again.

Inside the lines.

Inside the lines.

Inside the lines.


Recently I saw an article on adults using coloring books as a means to de-stress.   I loved to color and am excited of its resurgence for grown-ups.   This got me to thinking about the popular sound bites about coloring outside the lines and the value of thinking independently and creatively.   Sure, there is value and I hope to soon write a blog on the rule-breakers and how the workplace needs them.   But for now, I’m thinking about the enormous value of those that do “work inside the box” and consistently do jobs that are really the foundation of a workplace.

I am recalling an organizational behavior class I had where we learned of “followership”.  There are some great blog posts from the professor I had found here.  Followership is not a secondary state (contrary to leadership) and is critical for success.   In fact, individuals can flip flop between being a leader and a follower.   Isn’t the same true for inside and outside the lines?

Some kids follow rules extremely well.   They quietly fall into line and often are overlooked because they do so with zero disruption.   In the workplace, there are positions that are mission critical, and employees consistently and quietly work within their parameters and again, are often overlooked.   Truly, these positions can be the footings of the structure and allow a path for the rule breakers to challenge the status quo and move the company in new directions. History has repeatedly shown this example with architects and brick layers.   The brick layers stay in the critical lines to ensure a solid structure and architects are revered for thinking beyond the normal.   Both are necessary and both are valuable.

For those that do color within the lines, keep these items in mind:

  • Don’t make creativity the only recognition point at work, or at home.   Celebrate consistency and correctness.  If I have a payroll person or tax accountant that consistently submits completely accurate reports, find a way to give credit to the work.   If I have a child that consistently does homework without being asked, celebrate!
  • Offer an avenue to present ideas.   Not everyone enjoys spending time on new ideas and certainly not everyone enjoys sharing them.   Ways for people to communicate that are non-threatening or even anonymous can be helpful.
  • When individuals that are very different team up in a supportive environment, great things can happen.   Often the creative types have no appreciation for the baseline, routine functions of the organizations.   Learning opportunities will abound.
  • It can be therapeutic to work inside the lines.   Even those that are expected to drive new ideas and play devil’s advocate, can find reprieve in working inside the lines.   There is a reason that adult coloring books are popular.   Checking-out for a while can lend a brain a different way to process.   The converse works the same for those that work diligently on rote work and get breaks to delve into a creative task.

Researching this topic, I see countless articles on how to squeeze creativity out of employees and think outside of the box. I challenge the mindset to accept those that don’t find comfort there.   What if we can tolerate and then capitalize on both types?  In fact, coloring inside the lines can produce some beautiful results.

Working with your mouth open.

My kids have a lot of bad habits like chewing with their mouth open, leaving messes, procrastinating and interrupting one another.   I also see many of these in the workplace.   In a leadership role, I am often the sounding board to employee complaints about their co-worker’s behavior.   Many of these annoying little traits are not done consciously, but rather an old behavior that carries over to the workplace without consideration of the effect on others.   As the saying goes, these little behaviors result in death by a thousand cuts…and a loss of a co-worker-friend or even a job.

All the parents I know coach their kids on good manners and behavior.   What if that coaching went one step further and relayed the results of these bad habits as adults in the workplace?

Here is a list of many common bad habits and what to do about them:

Sink:   After a long day at work, nothing bothers me more than coming home to kids (that have been home for 2 hours) that have left dishes in the sink.   How hard is it to put them in the dishwasher?   This same behavior happens at work.   For the 20+ years I have been in the workplace, dishes in the sink at work has been an issue.  Solution:  Set a policy and stick to it.   At home, dishes in the sink equals laps on the stairs.   At work, dishes in the sink means they get thrown away.   Each week kitchen duty is assigned to a person (or two) and they have ultimate authority to make dish- decisions.   When someone’s favorite coffee mug is trashed, it doesn’t seem to get left behind any longer.

Listening:   It is pointless for me to talk to the kids when they are on the computer.   We call it video-game-brain.   They are terrible listeners.   Sadly, the workplace has them too.   The non-verbal’s scream out loud when someone you are talking to is not listening. The first step to resolve this problem is to start internally and practice your own listening skills.   Pay attention.   Also, keep your messages brief.   Is not listening a result of tuning out messages that go on and on and repeat? Lastly, silence can be a great tool.   Stop talking and look at the person until eye contact is made.   Usually the message is clear with no further dialogue.

Junior high:   With two of my three kids through junior high, I have direct experience with whining, complaining, gossiping and eye rolling.   Little doses are tolerable, but continuous actions are impossible to ignore and have to be addressed.   Talk about it one on one with the person and make them aware of your observation.   Then move to a team based, or family based, discussion that such behaviors are not part of the culture and find more positive alternatives.   There are a lot of resources on this topic, such as this.

Social media games:   Employees will “friend” and “defriend” coworkers and use it as a tool of revenge. “Yes, I will offer you a “friend” request so when you make me upset I can have leverage to “defriend” you.”   This is one example of how social media is woven into work.   If you haven’t done so already, get a social media policy in place.   This is one aspect that must be included; the company’s expectations around social media platforms.   Also, make sure your kids at home understand the ramifications of the vast social network.   I have a previous blog article on that here.

Lying:   I had a child psychologist tell me that kids aren’t lying because they are morally corrupt, instead they are trying to take the easy way out and don’t have a tool chest to draw from to communicate.  Like saying they brushed their teeth when they didn’t, for example.  The workplace is full of little lies.   “Yes, I emailed him” – then quickly sends the email.   Lying runs the spectrum and the slope is difficult to discern in terms of acceptability.   This one ranks at the top for termination too.   Hold liars accountable across the board.

Manners:   This can be one of the more uncomfortable conversations to have at work.   Obsessive coughing, poor hygiene, bad table manners and showing up sick are all examples of behaviors that can truly alienate a person.   Kids can get away with many of these throughout their school career, but it is different in the workplace.   Leadership needs to drive a culture that quickly and consistently addresses these issues.

Empty:   Empty toilet paper rolls, empty paper trays, empty coffee pots and empty milk jugs.   When there’s no toilet paper at home, the kids yell.   What are employees supposed to do?   The tragedy of the commons:   When it is everyone’s job, it is no one’s job.   I would love to hear ideas on solving this one?

People at work, just like a family, have to find ways to co-exist together in defined spaces.   The best results come from awareness and open communication.   Good luck!

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