Dr. David Cox on Emotional Triangles

Dr. David Cox is Emeritus Professor of Educational Leadership (1992-2014) at Arkansas State University.  We connected with him in 2012 and spoke to one of his classes through audio hook up.  Dr. Cox is deeply interested in Edwin Friedman’s work and the connection Healing Leaders explored between Friedman’s thinking and contemporary leadership. This post, and some following, contains parts of Cox’s paper, The Edwin Friedman Model of Family Systems Thinking: Lessons for Organizational Leaders:

“Relational systems are composed of triangles. The triangle is the basic building block, the molecule, for any system of people and the smallest stable relationship system. Two people have difficulty maintaining a one-to-one relationship for any period of time. The human dyad is so unstable that when two people who are important to each other develop a problem, they automatically look around for a third person to include in the anxious situation in some way. This move serves to stabilize the relationship between the original twosome. The more differentiated they are, the longer they can go without distancing or bringing in a third party.

Individuals become triangled when they become the focus of the unresolved issues of two others, or when they get caught in a position of being responsible for the relationship of two others or another and the person’s symptom or problem. The stress, and eventual burnout, of leaders has less do with hard work than with becoming emotionally triangled.”

Healing Leaders advises leaders: A) Self-define B) Remain non-anxious C) Maintain the outside position when possible.

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