Not too long ago, a group of us were discussing with one another. One of the participants started to complain and explain all the problems she had been experiencing during the last few days. Eventually also leading to a controversy with the group leader.
It was the right place to bring this up. The introduction to the conversation had been to talk about unfinished business.
Nevertheless, the points she brought up immediately created tension in the room. People were listening with attention. Even more so as she had triggered an intense discussion between her and the group leader. After a while, it became evident that her anger made it difficult for her to listen. She was in deep need to be heard but wasn’t able to share what she wanted us to hear.
The group process triggered a variety of reactions. Some wishing to solve the perceived problem, others asking to change the focus of the conversation.
All of them were based on the hope to solve the existing tension and somehow get rid of it.
For most people such tension is uncomfortable. The effort to solve the problem or ignore it resembled the fight or flight response people have when in danger.
In dealing with their own tension participants found it difficult to pay attention to the process. Busy with their own emotions, they didn’t pay attention to things happening in the room beyond the audible and visible reactions. They thus couldn’t see where and how space to handle the problem was being created.
One participant had moved over to hold her and give her physical comfort. It was support helping her to calm down and know that she wouldn’t be left alone. This action prevented her from becoming the scapegoat she could have become through her interaction.
Other participants invited to interrupt the conversation as it was. This helped to shift the focus back from individuals to the group. It created space for the unfinished business others had. Space allowing others to be heard. It spread the energy in the room again instead of keeping it all on the persons who had triggered the exchange.
As some participants tried to shift the focus back, enough tension had been released to allow for reflection. By asking if a continued intervention would allow solving the situation in that moment, the group became aware that it still wasn’t possible. We realized that some situations can’t be solved immediately and don’t need to. When emotions overwhelm and can’t be interrupted, the only useful interactions will be those which help the person to feel supported, welcome and having the time to deal with the emotion.
The most intriguing question we were left with was one to ask us whom it serves to solve the problem. Is it more beneficial for the person who created the tension or for the person who gets rid of it?