At the first sign of any inter-personal tension in the room, a good friend of mine usually says half in jest, “Can’t we all just get along?” Sometimes the effect of that on the others is to lower the temperature by stopping the conversation. Mostly though, it doesn’t break the tension, and sometimes, it actually increases it.
As we are learning more about brain science, it turns out that we actually do seem to want to get along, that we’re happier, or at least, more able to think clearly or at all, when we are not living in the effect of being triggered by others.
I certainly notice that when things become uncomfortable in my personal life, tension within the family, for example, my first response is to want to make it go away. But I have found, over time, that instead of dismissing whatever it was that created the tension that I felt, I have learned an enormous amount about my relationship to others, and my own life when I have found the courage to investigate, rather than push away, the painful feelings that usually underlie tension between me and others. Not that all of the conversations that ensue necessarily resolve the tension, but they are always sources of discovering something new, and while challenging to explore within myself and others, have been worth it to me most of the time to pursue, at least alone, if not with others.
Realizing that I can’t resolve all of those tensions and experiencing the accompanying discomfort is not easy, yet those tensions are indispensable to my being able to empathize with my clients and colleagues when I’m being paid to help.
Of course, it makes sense to pick our battles and not turn every point of tension into a fight or even a further exploration with the person who has provoked us. But it always makes sense to at least notice these tensions when they arise, and go into them with the other person when we are both ready. This allows for a deeper connection between us and ultimately, possibly a deeper sense of harmony between us when we can find our way through the problem. This is what we advertise that we can do for our clients, and it’s definitely been worth it for me to try it at home as well.