As a coach, I have a “behind the curtain” view into organizations and relationships. Repeatedly, I have observed a common behavior in life and work: people do not like conflict and will avoid having conversations to address the issues creating tension. Instead, they minimize tension and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, I have first-hand experience as a tension avoider.  In a previous leadership role, I encountered an inefficient leadership structure. Getting things done was cumbersome and slow. In wrestling with the issues, I made a decision but avoided talking with the people this decision would directly affect. I choose to ‘announce’ the decision. A few weeks later at a working retreat, conflict erupted. Tensions were high with no relief in sight. “What just happened?” I wondered. I had minimized the tension created by organizational change to avoid the conflict that conversation and discussion could create.

Recent research (2018 Trust Outlook) also gives us insight into the connection between trust and tension. “By far people see tension as an opportunity for growth, however, the primary way people deal with tension is to minimize it.” With such a contrast of mindsets toward tension, how might leaders navigate their team to success?

“The leader who clearly acknowledges tension, and promotes its hidden value by working through it, will reap the benefits and gain greater trust throughout the organization. Instead of continuing to minimize tension, everyone from front-line employees to c-suite leaders can profit from stepping into tension with the mindset of leveraging it for growth.” (2018TO)
In my workshop, “Handling Conflict to Grow Teamwork,” I share several important values essential to leverage the positive opportunities tension brings.

New Mindset– Times of tension provide the greatest opportunities to build trust in leadership and also develop high performing teams. Seize the opportunities that will inevitably occur.

Co-partnership– Consider your team’s ideas, opinions, and viewpoints as much as your own. Teams win championships, not a single star player.

Recognize Distinct Design– Appreciate each person’s unique talent and personality palate and allow them to paint their contribution on the canvas.

Believe the Best– Choose to believe that team players have valid opinions and want what is best for the team.

Relationship Inspires Growth–  Growth flourishes with understanding and mutual respect for ideas, perspectives, and perceptions.

Responsibility and Stewardship– High performing teams are self-governed. Each member seeks to work at their highest capacity for the sake of team performance and will hold each other accountable for their unique part.

What is one thing can you do this week to leverage tension and begin the culture shift towards one of trust rather than skepticism?

  • Take the initiative to start a conversation when your team feels tension.
  • Acknowledge ideas and bring them to the table for group discussion.
  • Recognize and champion the differences you see among team members.

Change is not easy, however, stepping into tension will build trust and create momentum for growth.

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