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How to cultivate great relationships in the workplace – Listen to the Third Entity
In each of my fortnightly newsletters I share a takeaway my readers can immediately put into action. In this excerpt I share a favourite tool to help you cultivate great relationships in the workplace – and beyond!
We’re living through times when nurturing the mindset to listen to and learn from each other is more critical than ever.
So how healthy are your workplace relationships feeling right now?
Hopefully, most are in a good place. But perhaps there’s a difficult conversation you know you need to have. A colleague you’re not seeing eye to eye with? Got someone in mind?
I have something that can help you with that. Let me introduce you to a fabulous little tool called the Third Entity Exercise. Every time I use this, I get a valuable new perspective on an issue affecting a relationship that matters to me.
“Everyone is right, only partially!”
Bring that person to mind and imagine the relationship you have with them as a triangle. I’m inviting you to listen to this relationship from three positions: Yours, Theirs, and the Relationship itself.
The Third Entity exercise works off the premise that “everyone is right, only partially!” and it assumes you care about this relationship and want it to be successful. Do you?
Step 1: Physically get up and stand in ‘your’ corner of the triangle. Imagine them standing in their corner. (Really imagine. What are they wearing? How are they standing?) Speak to them directly and by name about the issue. What do you feel? What do you want? Own your position and speak up firmly using ‘I’ statements such as “I feel”, “I want”.
Step 2: Physically walk over to the corner of the triangle representing the other party’s position. Take a moment to arrive in their shoes. If you can, stand the way they stand. Try to embody how they might be feeling. When you’re ready, I want you to really take on their point of view – I know this is hard! Address your original corner firmly as though you were this other person speaking about the issue and not you. Again, use firm ‘I’ statements such as “I feel”, “I want” – but from their perspective. Turn the dial up as much as you can take it, and then go a little further. What do you think they would really want to say to you, if they could?
You may want to repeat steps 1 and 2 a couple of times, each time getting clearer, firmer and more to the point with what each position really thinks and feels. And remember, feelings are important. We ignore them at our peril, so don’t skip the ‘feels’.
Step 3: Move to the third position of the triangle – you should be standing between the two other positions and at a little bit of a distance so that you can take in both positions at once. Imagine that there is a third entity in this scenario – the relationship itself. It is not you, and it is not them. It is the ‘we’ or ‘the relationship’ and it has its own distinct presence and perspective. It might help to put your arms out, as though putting an arm around each of the two other parties – because without either of these the ‘we’ would not exist! 
Now, from the perspective of ‘the relationship’ ask and respond to these questions:
1.    What does the relationship feel as it looks at these two people in conflict?
2.    What does the relationship know that they don’t know?
3.    What does the relationship need from them as a pair to move forward?
Step 4: Move back to your original position – ‘your’ corner. 
What is new for you now? 
And what is one action you’d like to take knowing what you know now?
Your mission, should you choose to accept it…
Is to simply try this.
Decide to experiment with this exercise this week and see what you discover. I’ve used this with coaching clients and teams, and often find myself scanning the three relationship questions from step 3 while I’m in the middle of a conversation!
This great exercise comes from the ORSC playbook, a methodology that reveals the relationship systems intelligence (RSI) behind everything we do, and that underpins my work with organisations, leaders and teams.
I’d love to know how you get on with the Third Entity exercise this week. Do drop me a line to share any ‘A-ha!’ moments!
And to explore how we can help your business thrive, do get in touch.
Here’s to you and to great relationships in the workplace!
Download a complementary PDF of the Third Entity exercise guide – yours to keep and share with others.


Deasert Spring shape
Deasert Spring shape
Deasert Spring shape
Deasert Spring shape