SIMON walked into the meeting and sat down. He looked around the room at the others seated there and could feel the tension in the air.
Is your first response as you read this to think that something is wrong?
It is interesting to note that there is no positive word in the English language for "conflict" or "tension". Some synonyms of these words are stress, hassle, anxiety, problem or apprehension.
If someone said: "There is tension in my relationship", the overwhelming response from people would be to think that something was wrong.
If you have a mindset that views any tension as a sign that something is wrong, you will struggle with asking questions - because asking questions can produce tension. The reverse of this would also be true.
If there is tension, it would be a good time to ask questions.
If you want to learn to be a good communicator, you must also rethink the purpose of tension and not assume that it means that something is automatically wrong.
To develop the art of inquiry, you must look at the healthy and important part tension plays in relationships. Without managed tension, there would be little movement, growth or life in any of your relationships, teams or organisations.
Tension is merely the signal that there is a difference or uniqueness in people and that in itself is a vital part of a relationship.
Here are some key points about tension:
Managing tension is the life of any relationship.
Too little tension and there is apathy. Too much tension and there is stress. The key is learning how to manage tension to keep the relationship alive.
Each person has the capacity to handle varying amounts of tension in different situations. Communication is necessary to handle tension on an hourly, daily or monthly basis. Tension is an important mechanism that tells us it is time to communicate.
Tension tells you and others working with you where you are.
It is a reality check and keeps you grounded in what is going on. The more clearly you know your role in the organisation, the easier it is to know how to get to where you want to go.
Tension reveals how a person will deal with the world around him.
Most people have grown up believing that life is riddled with problems to be solved and tension is the signal that something is wrong.
This may be true of the mechanical world, but it is not always the case with human relations.
The world of human relationships is full of values that are in tension with one another.
These values are to be explored, understood and then ordered through communication towards common goals.
Tension is the result of dilemmas at work. Some common dilemmas in any team or organisation are:
* Relationship focus versus task,
* Individual focus versus group,
* Future focus versus present, and
* Internal focus versus external.
See it as a tightrope
Let's look at the dilemma between the group and the individual, illustrated by the example of a man on a tightrope.
There are two platforms with a thick rope between them. On one platform is the value of the individual. On the other platform is the value of the group.
These two platforms are connected to each other and there is a clear and healthy tension between them.
Without allowing for some individuality in each person, the group becomes stagnant and conformity is the rule.
Without the group, the individual becomes isolated and there is anarchy, with each man for himself being the rule.
The potential for cooperation is out on the rope where the tension is.
The platform may be safe but there is little action, growth or even movement. People need to understand the importance of tension, and of striking a balance between individual needs and those of the group.
How to deal with it
There are two typical ways of dealing with tension.
The first is to see tension as wrong and to try to take control, to make rules and try and get the action "right".
The other way is through dialogue or communication. Tension is the signal that there is a difference in the way something is being viewed and can be a great opportunity to clarify, grow and learn new things.
If you take the first route, you may think questions are a form of challenge or even rebellion and make rules to remove the questions.
In the second way, you see that tension is healthy and a signal that communication is needed and welcome questions to give a greater understanding of the situation you are in.
The late Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, said: "What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.
"What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him."