It was a loose and lively crowd that filled the room as Tim Arnold presented an Executive Keynote on The Power of Healthy Tension — Overcome Chronic Issues and Conflicting Values. By the end of the powerful presentation, it was an even looser and happier crowd that drifted out of the room ready to take some new principles back to their home venues and businesses.
By nature, tension tends to be a negative word.
“Tension is not a positive word,” Arnold said. “If at home we were eating dinner and it got tense, we wanted to move away from there.”
In other words, avoidance, which is also not a good thing.
Arnold gave the audience nuggets on how to make tension an actually good thing, a positive thing.
“We will embrace good tension in this discussion,” Arnold said as he warmed up the crowd. “Tensions can drive us crazy or it can be something we can leverage and lean into to our advantage.”
Arnold cited four key steps to healthy tension: identify your crux tension (seeing is relieving); mind your bias (embrace your opposite); learn the language (there is wisdom in resistance); and make informed decisions (go slow to go fast).
“Tension is just part of life,” Arnold said. “I worked for the United Nations for three years and it was clear when everyone was in the room to meet there was so much division. We wanted agreement on who’s producing, etc. You would have countries who said we need decentralized freedom. As a group we had to accept the fact it was not going away. But there is something innate in us that we want solutions. Tension is not always to solve but to manage it well and make it healthy.”
Arnold used an example of when his wife was six months into her pregnancy of how the couple sought advice from those with children on how to raise the new child. Feedback came from having structure to having flexibility.
“It went from encouraging to discouraging,” Arnold said. “Here we were told effective parenting was either structure or flexibility. Oh my gosh! What do you choose? We were done with reading books and getting feedback.”
Arnold noted that there are at least 25 tensions that leaders manage. One such example is a meeting room of staff could be settled by diverse individuals or a unified team. Managing those tensions and get everyone onto the same page without an either/or attitude is the end goal.