, , , , ,

3rd Entity 2 1K px

Two or more people together create a system. In systems coaching lingo, the relationship between two or more people is called the 3rd Entity. When dealing with a challenge or creating a strategy, it’s important to consider what is best for each member of the system, and also to consider what would be most beneficial for the 3rd Entity.

A systems view can be a difficult thing to acquire and maintain. When working with clients, I sometimes use an exercise to help them see a situation from various perspectives, including that of the 3rd Entity.

To begin, my clients pick one person with whom they have a relatively minor disagreement. For the purposes of practice, it’s a good idea to steer clear of people and situations that make us feel very emotional. We want to practice with something that is only mildly irritating.

Let’s use a completely fictional scenario as an example. Let’s say that I have a male friend who insists on paying for things every time we do something together. To do the 3rd Entity exercise, I would begin by imagining or creating a triangle on the floor. The point at the bottom left of the triangle represents me. The bottom right point represents my friend, and the top corner represents our relationship, or 3rd Entity.

I would begin by standing on my own corner and stating my perspective. I might say things like, “It feels condescending and controlling when my friend insists on paying all the time. I feel like he is creating a situation where I owe him, and I don’t like it.”

It’s imperative that we stick with “I” statements when explaining our position and views. We always want to avoid blaming. It’s important to focus on our own feelings and views. Using “I” statements in this exercise is excellent practice for real-life interactions with others.

Once we have fully aired our views and feelings, we move over to the other person’s point on the triangle. I would step over and inhabit my friend’s perspective. It’s a great way to practice empathy. Of course, I don’t really know my friend’s motivations, and to fully resolve the situation, we would have to have a conversation. However, this is just an exercise right now to help us get better at seeing different perspectives.

When standing on my friend’s point of the triangle, I might say things like, “I feel unchivalrous and guilty if I don’t pay. I was brought up to believe that a gentleman always pays for a woman’s meal if she is my guest. I also enjoy paying. It is a gift, and it makes me feel good. I like sharing my abundance with others.”

Now, I might need to step back over onto my own corner to vent a bit after that speech that I gave for my friend. I have equally strong feelings about chivalry. I might say, “Well, insisting on paying because I am a woman makes me feel that you believe I am incapable of taking care of myself – that I am incompetent or an object to be cared for, and not a human being who is naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.”

Realizing that I am having a conversation with myself while inhabiting two roles, I could allow my friend a rebuttal. I could step back over onto his point of the triangle and say, “My wanting to pay has to do with my own values and feelings, not my assessment of your competence or worth.”

We don’t have to come to an agreement in our made-up conversation. It’s just a way to practice using “I” statements for our own views and feelings and using empathy to embody another person’s views and feelings. The next part is the main point of the exercise.

Once I feel that I have fully expressed both of our points of view, I step up to the top point of the triangle and look at the situation from the perspective of the relationship. It’s the broad systems view of the 3rd Entity. The questions to answer from here are “What would be the best thing for the relationship?” and “What does the relationship need to thrive?”

Obviously, the friction and resentment created every time my friend and I go out together by his insistence to pay and my negative reaction is not good for the relationship. The relationship wants peace and needs some compromise in order to thrive. The 3rd Entity needs for each of us to put our egos aside and find a compromise that we would both find acceptable.

The first question to ask myself is whether or not I care enough about the relationship to make any compromises. At work, we must maintain relationships with others. One of the hallmarks of great leadership is the ability to create and maintain positive relationships. However, in our personal lives, we can keep or toss people at will.

Let’s say that I do want to continue this relationship. It has value to me, and I want to help it thrive. The next thing to ask myself is “What am I willing to give up in order to support the 3rd Entity?” Could I just allow my friend to pay all the time and not feel any resentment? Probably not. However, I realize the importance of paying to him and could live with him paying some of the time. Perhaps I could offer a compromise in which I pay for one big event that I really want to do every now and then. I get to plan and pay for the entire thing. It comes down to a question of how much the relationship means to me and what I might be willing to do for it.

Now, it is absolutely not healthy if only one person is concerned with the health of the 3rd Entity. If my friend refuses to budge one bit and won’t consider my comfort, value, or feelings, it might be time to end the relationship. Each and every member of a system must be willing to do things to promote its health. We, of course, have our own values to defend, but we must be willing to compromise for the good of the system.

In the workplace, if I am the director of marketing, part of my job is to advocate for the marketing department. However, I must also consider what would be best for the entire organization. It is not responsible for me to insist on creating the ideal situation for the marketing department if those circumstances don’t support the goals and values of the organization as a whole.

In the end, we must have a conversation with the other members of our system. The triangle exercise can be done with a partner. Each person stands on his or her own point and says what they think and feel using “I” statements. Then both people move up to the top point and talk about what would be best for their 3rd Entity. It’s a nice structure that can help a  conversation be more collaborative and less adversarial.

“What does our 3rd Entity need to thrive in this situation?” is always an excellent question to begin a productive conversation.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.