When there is tension in the room people will often back off. It’s an uncomfortable situation for many, if not everyone.
It creates the sense that people are not in harmony in that moment, which to many is unexpected. They assume that comfortable harmony is the normal and desired state. They don’t like it when it becomes uncomfortable as they suddenly fear that they might not be sufficiently protected. By default, there is a desire to be invulnerable. It is only when paying attention that stepping into vulnerability is possible without trying to protect oneself at the same time. Which is the condition for being vulnerable. Stepping accidentally into that state either requires the ability to accept it through awareness and to be in an environment that feels safe enough. That is an environment we trust.
Tension is a signal that there might be a problem. A problem that can only be made visible by stepping into the tension. What tension says, is simply that someone in the room isn’t comfortable. Empathy allows us to explore the reasons. However, it requires empathy and a constructive attitude. But as tension is often confused with conflict itself, people can find it hard to muster empathy and step forward with a defensive or aggressive attitude.
A lot of conflicts don’t serve anyone, those conflicts are filled with sarcastic comments, they are used to blame people, and they allow people to remain passive. For many, it is the only type of conflict they are aware of. When they sense the tension they feel as if they were already in a conflict and walk away. However, such conflicts keep the tension in place and delay the solution. Sometimes they delay the solution until it is too late and the only thing left to do is attend to the problem that finally emerged.
Instead of backing off from the tension, there is the possibility to step into it constructively. In this case, people work through the issue by keeping their goal in mind and remaining constructive. Whenever they do, they’ll notice at some moment that the tension diffused itself. To get there, it requires containing the conflict within a constructive space. This happens by being clear about the common objective and by wanting to reach that common objective together.
Destructive conflicts will easily focus on the individuals and search for someone to make responsible or to blame. In constructive conflicts the issue generating the tension is seen as an obstacle the group needs to solve together, it becomes independent from the individual.
People can feel how they are a part of a team when they have a shared reason for being in the conflict and have a goal they are moving toward.