Triangulation in the Work Place (“gossip”)

By: Saphronia Young

Clients frequently encounter difficult situations at work that originated in triangulated communications…i.e., gossip. Such behavior is toxic, whether at work, in social settings, or even in religious communities. Gossip sometimes serves a purpose. It can reaffirm between the “in” parties the values, roles, traditions and culture that are being promoted and that the “other” person may actually have violated.

However, it frequently does so at the expense of more honest, forthright and compassionate communications around the issues being discussed. If the violator of company rules or protocol is not aware of the violation, they cannot address it. If the violator becomes aware that s/he is accused of violating a policy or protocol only through gossip, the immediate reaction is not likely to be one of honest self-reflection, but more likely will be angry, resentful, and unhappy at having been subjected to treatment as an “outsider.”

Why does this matter legally? Because such feelings can foster legal claims. Recent case law suggests that retaliation claims may be supported by evidence that the claimant was being talked about in the gossip chain. Privacy claims can be supported by allegations that information only a direct supervisor and Human Resources should have known about was being discussed in the gossip channels. Sexual discrimination claims have been supported by evidence that the victim’s private life was subject to scrutiny, where the private life of men in the office (or heterosexuals) was not.

Therefore, good managers will see triangulation for what it is…a dysfunctional way of trying to communicate. That dysfunction can blossom into legal problems. Management bears the responsibility for including “no gossip” policies in HR manuals, for sending out reminders about the “no gossip” policy, and for encouraging mediation or other direct communication between employees who have issues with each other.

This summary is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult an attorney in regard to your particular situation.