Name It. Own It. Choose It. Use It.

After you have created the conversation space for your discovery conversation by saying what you want to talk about, why it’s important to you, confirming that with your conversation partner, identifying who you are, declaring what you need and stating your beliefs, you will almost invariably experience some tension along the boundary between your inner and outer worlds, and also between your inner world and the inner world of your conversation partner. These tensions will often emerge along the boundary between you because you both have different needs from the conversation, and even more frequently, you both have different viewpoints on the conversation topic that you have both agreed on.

Avoiding Tension

Although this tension is a healthy indication that your discovery conversation is progressing into valuable territory, many organisations try to promote an atmosphere of harmony and balance in the conversations that they host. Attempting to maintain this equilibrium can mean that conversational tensions are often avoided or just glossed over. The avoidance of tension is usually based on a fearful misconception that any tensions that might come to the surface will remain unresolved and then grow out of control into further discord and outright conflict. The reverse is true, however, and any tension that emerges in your conversations enables you to clearly identify where the boundaries and differences between you are. If you avoid tension and try to run away from it, it will be far harder for you to clearly identify boundaries so you can turn together and move forward with your actions.

Name The Tension

The first step in working in healthily working with any tension is to identify it, by simply naming it. By naming the tension that you are experiencing along the boundary between your inner and outer worlds, you give yourself the opportunity to work with it, rather than just allowing it to make you feel uneasy and less likely to engage in a meaningful conversation, with your conversation partner, or your self. Naming the tension is as simple as saying ‘Can you tell me more about why you’re holding that particular viewpoint because it seems quite different from my perspective?’ or ‘There seems to be quite a difference between what I expected would happen and what actually has happened’. The more specific you can be in identifying the tension, the easier it will be to work with.

Own the Tension

After identifying the tension by naming it, the next step is to work with the tension, so that you and your conversation partner, or your self, can resolve the tension and create value and progress from it. It can be easy to feel like you are just a passive recipient of tension and all the tension that you are experiencing is being caused by your conversation partner, or your circumstances. The reality is, however, if you are experiencing tension in a particular situation, then it is likely that you are also creating it and contributing to it in some way. Rather than feeling like tension is happening to you, it is far healthier to own your contribution to any tension that you are experiencing by, for example, by declaring ‘I could have been clearer in the outcome I was looking for when I asked you to help me with this project‘.

Choose the Tension

After identifying the tension by naming it, and understanding your contribution to it by owning it, you now have the opportunity to choose how you are going to use the tension. It may seem as if you have no choices because this tension is forcing you to act in a particular way, but as you explore different beliefs and viewpoints in your conversation, you often find your perspective changing, enabling you to see possibilities that were imperceptible from your previous viewpoint. As you and your conversation partner, or your self, turn together through these choices and explore them, you often become aware of a wider context that enables you to reframe your beliefs. Rather than feeling like you have no options in the situation, choosing how you work with the tension can open up a variety of opportunities for you.

Use The Tension

By naming, owning and choosing how you work with the tension and friction is that you encounter along a boundary between your inner and your outer worlds, you always start to gain traction in difficult conversations, helping you and your conversation partner to move beyond what has been resisting your efforts. Rather than tension being an uncomfortable boundary that is holding you back, it becomes a healthy motive force that enables you to make progress beyond what you previously thought was possible. Instead of feeling forced to work in a particular way because of the tension that you are experiencing along the boundary between your inner and outer worlds, the tension becomes a positive and healthy force that you can use to move into specific and effective action.

Name It. Own It. Choose It. Use It.

For many people in the workplace, encountering tension is often associated with experiencing non-specific stress and so they habitually try to avoid any tense and stressful situations. Avoiding tension, rather than working with it, however, results in more and more uncontrolled stress building up and so the situation becomes even more stressful. Stress is often viewed as just a single experience that causes you upset but the reality is that there are two main types of stress, which are distress and eustress. Distress is what is commonly referred to as stress, where you create an unresolved boundary tension that is causing you discomfort. Our word ‘distress’ is derived from the Latin ‘district’, which implies a separate area with a boundary. Choosing and using tension by naming it and owning it transforms it from distress into eustress, which is a healthy or fulfilling tension. Without that healthy tension, it is almost impossible to make healthy progress.

Encountering Tension

When you feel yourself encountering tension, simply start with what matters most and what it means to you. Just step into the tension and be clear who you are, what you need and what you believe. As the tension continues to emerge, name the tension that you are experiencing, own your contribution to it and choose how you are going to use it to move you and your conversation partner forward in a positive and healthy manner.