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Managing Tension

Whenever two people interact with each other there is always tension. Sometimes the tension is low and sometimes it is very high. Too much tension in our body can result in some very serious side effects. Side effects may include, stress, hypertension, heart attacks, strokes and indeed some cancers are related to stress. Sometimes tension is a good thing. Tension makes us feel alive and involved in life.

In management or in sales there is usually a driver and a follower. The driver can be the manager who wants an individual on his team to do something, or a salesperson who wants the customer to take action. Whenever we ask someone to do something we can expect some tension to exist. Depending on the quality of the relationship between the driver and the follower, the level of tension will be determined.

What I am really talking about is two kinds of tension; relationship and task tensions. Relationship tension is how the driver and the follower are getting along. Are they relating to each other? If the relationship tension is too high, then they are not relating to each other. If the relationship tension is low, then they are relating very well to each other. This is a good thing!

Let me cite an example. Think of the last time you were in a social environment with people you did not know. What did you talk about? Did you talk about your dying mother, a relative with a drug problem, your child who is having trouble with life? No! You talk about safe subjects like the weather, sports or something you read in the newspaper. Obviously your relationship tension with people you do not know is high. Conversely think about your closest friend or relative, what do you talk about? You talk about everything. Why? Because your relationship tension is low.

Let’s examine the other tension, task tension. When asked to do something, like take a phone call from salespeople, meet with them, answer their questions, buy from them and refer them to others, your initial reaction is no! This is because your task tension is very high and your desire to act is very low. But over time your task tension may go down and you may become interested in listening, meeting, buying and referring this salesperson.

Let’s summarize what we have discussed so far. First, tension is not bad or good, but it always exists. Too much or too little can be a problem for the manager or the salesperson. There are two kinds of tension: relationship and task. Relationship tension is the quality of the relationship between the driver and the follower. Task tension is the willingness of the follower to become involved in the process and act on what is requested from the manager or salesperson.

Now let’s look at the correlation between relationship and task tension. These two tensions have a converse relationship. As the relationship tensions goes down, meaning the driver and follower begin to relate to one another, then the task tension goes up, meaning the follower becomes more interested in participating in the process. One tension has an effect of the other.

If this is true then how does the driver reduce the follower’s relationship tension? They must understand that the driver controls relationships and the follower controls tasks. You cannot make anyone doing anything they do not wish to do. But, if you behave correctly, the follower will begin to trust you and then they will be more open to following your advice. So behaviours are critical. If the drivers treat the followers with respect and do not lose their patience with them, then they improve their chances the followers will act as requested.

Here are some simple rules …

1. Never think or act disrespectful of the follower. Make sure your thoughts and your actions are always respectful of the follower. They may on occasion frustrate you, but never take it personally or express your frustration. This expression in thought and deed will immediately increase the relationship tension, therefore lower the task tension with the result the process will slow down or stop.

2. Accept that the first sale you make is the one called trust. Have you behaved in a way that the follower would trust you, your ideas and most importantly, your recommendations? Trust can be built quickly, but can be totally broken when making a thoughtless comment or not keeping your promises.

3. Listen with your full concentration, your mind and your heart. Listening is the greatest compliment you can give another human being. When was the last time you were truly listened to? It is a wonderful experience and an amazing feeling when someone truly listens to you. This is a way to reduce relationship tension and increase task tension very quickly.

4. Shut up! Drivers talk far too much. Many think talking is selling or management. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Effective management or selling is truly listening to the follower. If you are doing the majority of the talking during your interaction with the followers, do not be surprised when they do not act, or reluctantly act, but never deliver the quality of action you are looking for from them. The followers need to feel they are part of the process and part of the decision.

Relationship and task tension exist in all interactions between people. Too much relationship tension is a bad thing and the result is too little task tension, which is a bad thing. When relationship tension is low enough and task tension is high enough the process moves smoothly forward. The driver controls relationship and the follower controls task. As a driver, a manager or a salesperson, if you understand this converse relationship and your role in it, you will find you will get more out of the follower and meet more of your objectives in management and in sales. Learn this model and apply it in your daily life with your followers, family and friends and you will be amazed with the results.

Good luck,
James M. Heidema.