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The Joy of Tension

Written by John Buck and Monika Megyesi, certified sociocracy experts.

Imagine yourself watching a story on TV in which there is no dramatic tension. Are you enjoying it? (yawn) Time to flip the channel to find something with more tension!  

Now imagine you are in a team meeting trying to make decisions. There is a lot of tension. Are you enjoying the meeting? Probably not. ;-(  What’s the difference in the two situations? 

In the story, the tension gets resolved in the end. There is usually a release and genuine relief, a change in the characters’ relationships in some way. Even if the story is a tragedy and you feel sad, the tension is still resolved in the end. 

But in many meetings, there is no release from the tension, unless you go home and yell at the kids or kick the dog. In the office, everyone tries to grin and be polite, so tension gets buried to fester for weeks afterwards.  

Does this sound familiar?

  • The boss makes a decision that leaves many irritated. 
  • You have a majority vote with a large, losing minority. The minority feels ignored, maybe angry, and finds ways to undermine the decision. 
  • You encounter endless intellectual standoffs, where agreements are won not by reason but by endurance (people simply getting worn out). We call this way of decision-making “buttocracy” (rule by those with the numbest butts). 

In these examples, there is no satisfying resolution of the tension, no decision that leaves everyone satisfied.

Here are some suggestions for transforming and redirecting tension in more satisfying ways. They come from many methods, including agile, open space, sociocracy, mediation, meditation, aikido, and emotional intelligence: 

  • Don’t look for perfect, “correct” solutions – just ones that are “good enough for now and safe enough to try”. 
  • Go around to everyone in the room with the question, “How do we solve this issue?” and watch some solutions self-organize.
  • If two or three people in the group are in conflict, get them to have a “fish bowl” dialogue among themselves, where others are present and holding them emotionally.
  • Get clear about your common aim: why are you all together in the meeting? What are you trying to accomplish together? 
  • Take a break! Give your subconscious minds a chance to work..
  • Find ways to probe complex situations, experiment, build models, do rapid prototyping.

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If you were awake and engaged in your middle school physics class, you know that tension never really goes away, it transforms! Tension can be redirected into generative endeavors (i.e. living life even more to the fullest). Suppressed tension leads to gradual paralysis (i.e. growing isolation, anxiety, depression). 

Yet, tension in any form is better than no tension. A mouse without tension is a dead mouse!

Stay tuned for more!

Monika & John

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