(Influential Leadership) Pay Attention To Tension

What is Tension Anyway?

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The critical factor that determines what changes someone will make and when those changes occur is TENSION. Tension can be defined as the urgency one feels to do something.


Tension determines what some will notice and what they will ignore. A key principle to remember is that people pay attention to where they find their tension.


Tension also determines how productive someone is going to be, or when your “prospect” will buy or accept your proposed idea.


The Critical Factor

Let’s examine the role tension plays in someone’s decision to accept an idea you are proposing (or to make any kind of change). Whenever someone is considering making a change, three variables come into play: LOGIC, FEASIBILITY and TENSION.


The first condition is LOGIC: the change must make sense. It must solve a problem or produce a better result. It must help gain or maintain control.


The second condition is FEASIBILITY. Every change requires a certain set of resources, such as time, money and personnel. If those particular resources are not available, it is going to be difficult, if not impossible, for the person to make the proposed change.


The third condition is TENSION. How much tension is enough? The person must have enough tension to take immediate, definitive action. They must be at the Threshold of Activation. If tension is below this threshold, they will not take action.


Let’s look at five scenarios. In each , we need to answer the question, “Will the executive accept your recommendation?”


Scenario #1 – The Gift from Heaven
Your proposal to the executive is completely logical. It solves a critical problem. It’s also completely feasible. Plenty of money, time and resources are available. And the executive desperately wants to get things back under control (i.e., there is lots of tension). Will the executive accept? Definitely! If you can’t influence the executive in this situation, something is seriously out of whack with either you or the executive!


Scenario #2 – Everyday Influencing
Suppose your proposal in some small way just doesn’t make complete sense to the executive. It isn’t exactly what they have in mind. Be that as it may, they have all the resources they need — and they are convinced that they need to do something immediately. What do you think will happen? You’ll still get this one. In fact, this is normal, everyday influencing. Rarely, if ever, in your role as a consumer, do you encounter a product or service that is exactly what you’re looking for in every way. Instead, you shop around, look at the options and make your decision based on the best alternative.


Scenario #3 – Where There’s A Will There’s a Way
Your proposal is completely logical. It satisfies all the executive’s needs. It solves all their problems. It is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But there’s some small glitch as far as feasibility is concerned. Perhaps they don’t have quite enough money, or quite enough time, or resources are stretched. Yet, with every fiber of their existence, they want your solution. Will they pursue it? This is a case of “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” If they have a problem and feel that it is serious enough, they usually have ways of getting whatever resources are needed.


Scenario #4 – Impulse Buying
Your recommendation doesn’t really make sense — and the executive doesn’t have the resources. But they feel compelled to take action anyway. Yes, they will accept the solution — although the “sale” certainly isn’t likely to stick. This is impulse buying. Even though this is rarer in the corporate world, it happens. One example might be a solution that addresses a compliance requirement. The work itself may not make a lot of sense and puts a massive strain on resources, but it HAS to be done.


Scenario #5 – No Sale
Now, in all seriousness, how many executives have readily agreed that whatever you have recommended makes perfect sense — had all the resources needed and then some — but they still didn’t feel like there was any reason to jump into things — or had more pressing issues requiring their more immediate attention? Will your recommendation be accepted? No. It doesn’t matter how logical your recommendation is or how feasible you can make it — if there’s not enough tension, the prospect will not buy.


The Bottom Line


Not only is tension an important factor in influencing someone, it’s the controlling factor. Whenever tension is present at an adequate level, the executive will embrace your idea — even if your recommendation isn’t logical or feasible.


This gives rise to the foremost rule in tension management: “Pay Attention to Tension, First and At All Costs.”


The success you have enjoyed in your career so far and the success you’ll enjoy from this point forward is based not so much on your ability to make things logical or feasible for those around you, but rather on your natural or learned ability to manage their level of productive tension.


If you aren’t paying attention to tension, you’re missing opportunities to be influential!


(Contributed by David C Miller.)

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