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  • Writer's pictureLucie Out There


Updated: Oct 21, 2023

Does your moral compass sometimes lead you to point out uncomfortable truths? Do you value honesty and transparency over "peace and quiet"? Congratulations, friend, you're probably "the Tension" (or whatever else your organisation decides to call it). And if you ask me, the world needs more of us. Let me explain.

Being "the tension" isn't always easy, but the world needs more of us.

Hi, I'm the Tension.

I moved to Sweden from France in 2021.

I'd been working for a fast-growing Swedish company for a couple of years and transferred to its head office in Malmö. I lived here previously, so I knew that despite having much going for it, Sweden had its challenges. And for me, a proudly opinionated black French feminist, one of the biggest was the Swedes' infamous fear of conflict.

Nonetheless, within a year, I made great relationships and carved myself a comfortable place within my team and my work. So comfortable, in fact, that when stress and burnout started creeping up in our team and strategic mistakes kept making us stumble, I suggested we pause and address those issues. Let me tell you, I have rarely felt more French.

Apparently, the mere act of questioning our ways of doing and of thinking was deemed a blatant sign of disrespect. I begged to differ but, as I was told shortly after, "agreeing to disagree [was] not an option." (Yes, this is a direct quote.)

A few months later, I returned from vacation and was called into a meeting by one of the managers. Apparently, "the team ha[d] raised concerns that the tension would be coming back." And to prevent any confusion, she added, "as you're coming back from holiday."

From conflict avoidance to creative tension

Of course, when such confrontation happens, one needs to look inward first. Was I, actually, "the tension"? Looking back on what I'd said and how I'd said it, was there actually anything that caused more harm than good? I did try to spark difficult conversations, but always mindfully and with long-term benefits in mind. I also quickly learned that "the concern" wasn't shared by any of my colleagues, but only held by management. This realisation led me to go from upset and insecure to empowered.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the topics I have raised:

  • The need for better internal communication between departments (a problematic shortcoming that often led us to public embarrassment),

  • The fact that receiving text messages and emails from managers from 5 am to 11 pm, along with an admitted unsustainable workload and list of responsibilities, could participate in a culture of burnout,

  • The idea that the extremely opaque and vague reasons for which team members were asked to leave could impact the team's psychological safety.

Yes, being vocal about such issues creates friction, or even, say, tension. But it is also true that, more often than not, and in any setting, at work or in relationships, tension is needed to unlock true potential and creativity. As Mark Batson Baril wrote for Forbes in 2019,

"Agreement and consensus have their place, but if everyone on the team agrees all the time, how can creative ideas, positive change, or innovation happen? For that matter, why have a team at all?"

Know what you stand for and respect yourself

I have spent years trying to figure out what I stood for and what I believed in. The entirety of my twenties, in fact.

Standing up for myself, no matter the weather.

And not so long ago, I came to realise that if I had any ambition in life, it was to exist in the world as the embodiment of my values. Finding my place in the world meant finding a way to live out those values in harmony with others and with intention.

The reason I share this story is that it was the first time this embodiment was challenged by authority. And I'm not going to lie: it almost broke me. Standing up for oneself in such situations is extremely hard. But being curious, tackling obstacles with creativity, caring for my and others' mental health, and demanding honesty in exchange for trust, are all values that I refuse to compromise on. And if that clashes with instances of authority, then I am willing to face the consequences.

As a result of the tension that I brought and, according to some, embodied, I was dismissed from that job. And I feel extremely fine about it. I respected myself and stood up for what I believed in, and that is something I am proud of myself for.

This also had a beneficial side effect. It got me to explore the idea of tension and my attraction to it more deeply. I realised that actually, everything I was interested in and stimulated by was related to the concept of creative tension. Questions related to social and environmental sustainability, spirituality and consumerism, diversity and inclusion, equality and equity, gender and sexuality, love, peace, war... I believe all those questions require a certain reverence for tension. And it is what I want to explore in my work. This is what you can expect from future articles on this blog and all of my future projects.

Is there any tension you would like us to explore together? Tell me here.


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