Triangulation and other Systems Thinking Concepts

By Connie Goodbread

UU Leadership Institute

This is a sample video from the UU Leadership Institute online course "Centered Leadership, Part 2"

Centered Leadership, Part 2


  • Includes Self-Definition
    • Sensing limits, knowing where self and others begin and end, making the distinction between self and non-self yet being aware of the part self plays in relationship.
    • Knowing what you believe, being aware of your goals and values, letting your own convictions determine your behavior.
    • Taking a stand, articulating your position (and in doing this not having to change the other or change oneself to please the other), seeking clarity.
  • Includes Self-Regulation
    • Staying on course, having resolve, possessing emotional stamina, persevering, accepting challenge
    • Controlling or changing the part self plays in emotional processes, being calm and reflective, focusing on one’s own functioning rather than the functioning of others, very little blaming or attacking.
  • Includes Balancing the Self-Other Relationship
    • Staying connected to others (if self is surrendered, it’s an act of self, it is chosen, not instinctive)
    • Going beyond self-promotion, being aware of the “other,” being as invested in the welfare of the relationship as in self.


  • All systems seek a well-ordered status. If a congregation is thrown out of balance by the prospect of change, members will seek to restore order and sameness.Change creates anxiety and the anxious person will seek to reinstate equilibrium through blaming, gossiping, keeping secrets, diagnosing and insisting on one’s own way.
  • The reality that the system has more effect on the parts than the parts do on the system
    • “We will bounce back to the same old rut every time.”
    • “The more things change the more they stay the same.”
    • “We like things just the way they are – even if we say we don’t.”
  • A system will attempt to maintain the status-quo. The system fights influences that will produce a change unless or until things become painfully intolerable.

Identified Patient

  • The group, person or issue that is the focal point of the conflict and anxiety. The conflict might manifest itself as either organizational or interpersonal issues, or both, but whatever the problem seems to be, the problem is never the problem.
  • This concept should not be confused with the symptom-bearer. A symptom-bearer is often the most vulnerable individual – the “canary in the coal mine”. The Identified Patient can avoid being the symptom-bearer if they avoid being pushed (by the system) into being vulnerable.

Emotional Family Field

  • The emotional family baggage we bring with us into every community we join. The bags that were carefully packed by our parents whose bags were carefully packed by our grandparents. These relationships in our formative years can influence our current relationships, often without our awareness.


  • An emotional triangle is formed by any three persons or issues. When any two parts of a system become uncomfortable with one another, they will “triangle in” or focus upon a third person or issue, as a way of stabilizing their own relationship.
  • Roping in a third person to fight your battle: “Let’s you and her fight.”
  • Sometimes shows up as anonymous feedback.

About the Author

Connie Goodbread

Connie Goodbread is congregational life staff for the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Richard Speck is retired from full-time ministry and former district executive of the Joseph Priestley District of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

For more information contact .