Holacracy Community of Practice Archive, 2015-2019 Community Holacracy Web Site

Addressing A Tension About The Word "Tension"

Someone new to our organizational model/process has raised a tension about the word "tension" - they think it's negative and would like us to use a substitute.

How does the Constitution address this scenario?

  • Would it have to be addressed in the anchor circle, or could it be addressed in any given circle as an autonomous choice of that circle?

  • I'm assuming it's conceivable that the proposal could be considered valid. In Section 3.2.1, there's mention of a policy that is not really specific to any role, and presumably such a policy would have to come from a valid proposal (where the proposer can articulate how the proposal will enhance the purpose and/or accountabilities of one of their roles). Is that correct? Am I missing something about how generalized proposals are handled? [Reference: "A Circle may also use a Policy to create a time limit for responding to asynchronous Proposals".]

  • Would the only way to validly process this tension be to add an accountability to a role (or create a new role with an accountability) of something like "Deciding on which terms we use for tactical & governance meetings"? Or can a proposal somehow be made on this without creating the accountability/authority to make this decision?

Would really appreciate anyone's input! I'm guessing this kind of a corner case scenario, so it seems like an interesting test of the Constitution's comprehensiveness.

8 Replies

Hi Fred,


It is a funny one because to be valid, a tension has to be based on a specific situation where it limited the person's role.

I would be curious to see the concrete situation where it limited that new person's role.

If not, not valid to be processed!

By the way, “tension” is neutral in its original sense. People often confuse it with problems, negative things which is not. I think you lack pedagogy here - don't avoid that by changing the name, it is a great challenge to continue to use it as is and change people's mind and perception about it.

Brian Robertson

To echo Margaux's point (and dodge the original question ), there's a *really* good reason *not* to change it, especially when someone perceives it as negative and wants to change it... that's exactly the reason for the word tension, to evoke that sense of negatively and dislike, lean into it, and slowly rewire people's meaning-making around that experience itself...

Fred Magovern

Thanks for replying so quickly!

By no means am I eager to use a different term lol, and the irony doesn't escape me. As facilitator though, I'm not weighing in on whether what they say is accurate, but just that he provides a specific, logical example of how it inhibited one of their roles, which he might. To clarify:

  • Is it conceivable that this proposal could be considered valid?
  • If so, could it result in valid governance output for any circle, or only the overall circle?
  • If so, the output can't be changing the term, right? It could only be creating an accountability for a role to decide on terms, right?
  • If not (to the first question), then how could a change like this be made? By constitutional amendment by the ratifiers?

If it comes to it, I want to make sure I have a principled answer for him, and to make sure I don't subvert the process.

Brian Robertson

Gotcha Fred, definitely not Facilitator's place to judge!  But it's hard to imagine a valid proposal that will achieve the effect of enforcing a language change.  I mean, you can't govern people (only roles), so you can't demand people stop saying a word.  You could change the word in the Constitution itself that the company has adopted, but that would take a Ratifier-level constitutional amendment; and even then it's no guarantee people won't still say "tension".  You could create an accountability on some role for defining standard terms, sure - but that's still no guarantee people won't say "tension", and they'd have really good reason to as long as the Constitution used the word, whatever that role might decree...

Hope that helps!

- Brian

Fred Magovern

Got it, that's what I figured: constitutional amendment by ratifiers, or new accountability.

Thanks so much for everyone's feedback.

David Locke


I think that it's possible to address this situation through another approach entirely outside of a governance meeting.

Section 3.4 of the constitution allows a circle's Secretary to interpret the constitution.  Any partner can ask the Secretary to rule on the validity of using another word (ex. "broccoli") as substitute for "tension" and the Secretary's interpretation will decide the issue.


Fred Magovern

In case anyone wants a laugh, one of his preferred options was "green". It's a running joke in Slack DMs lol. "If you don't like it, raise a green."

Stephan Jenner

Interestingly glass frog refers to triaging issues