28. Habit #8: Take Your Tensions Seriously

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

Over the past months, we’ve asked you to experiment with some new behaviors. Be a Ferrari. Encourage objections. Request work from other roles. Today, we go back to the basics of sensing and processing your tensions.

Of course, simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. So, while your next habit is simple, you may find it harder to practice than you realize. We call this habit, “take your tensions seriously”.

Experimenting with this habit is critical because most of us have learned to work inside conventional organizations governed by the management hierarchy, where we had limited power to create meaningful change. Most of us start our careers eager and ready to add value. Yet, when so many issues are "above our pay grade," we quickly learn that often the best strategy is to suck it up. But Holacracy isn't built on top of the management hierarchy. It's a replacement for it. Meaning, the "just suck it up" attitude, which actually worked well enough in the old system, is going to cause you problems.

The "suck it up" approach will prevent you from processing tensions which are both:

1) real (even if you pretend you don't feel them), and

2) have huge potential value to others and the organization.

This is why it's important to try taking your tensions seriously, which means first, acknowledging them as real tensions, and second figuring out how to process them.

No longer feeling tension is how you know you've successfully processed it (to your own internal standards).

So, someone pisses you off. What do you do about it?

Sure, screaming at them could be an overreaction, but doing nothing, and trying to swallow your anger is an equally inelegant solution. That would be an under-reaction. That's the point of this habit.

If you feel a tension, you will try to solve/process it. It's inevitable. It's what people do. The only question is, how effectively will you process it? Are you able to avoid under-reacting just as much as overreacting?

In the management hierarchy, our reactions are usually determined by the power in the relationship. We have to be selective. Finding and using pathways can be perilous. You can't propose governance to clarify expectations and authorities. You can't easily request projects. And should an interpersonal conflict arise, you can't process it directly unless the two of you happen to be on the same management level.

Holacracy provides lots of new pathways, but they don't do any good just sitting there. We must use them.

The next few lessons go into more detail, but to kick off this habit, here are three concrete ways to get serious about your tensions:

1) Write your tensions down when you feel them. Even if you don't bring it up later, the act of writing them out has many benefits (sometimes just acknowledging reality resolves the tension).

2) Ask someone to help you figure out how you feel about something, or what to do about it. Most of us love being a thought-partner for others.

3) Notice when you are complaining about something (or someone) and expecting something to change. Just noticing this old habit is a step forward.

Taking your tensions seriously is about listening to our own inner voice. Honoring it. Figuring out what it's telling us to do. While it’s true some issues can’t be resolved in the particular way we imagine, our feelings are never wrong or unneeded. In fact, it’s perfectly obvious our feelings are needed. How? Because we feel them. Feelings are signals. They point us toward some things and away from others. Ignoring them is ignoring reality. Even if we succeed in ignoring the fire alarm, we aren't having any effect on the fire.

Any unresolved issues pulling on your attention? Anything that needs to be improved?