When individuals or teams have worked their way into a conflict, they are the only ones that can get out of it in a way that results in new understanding and increased well-being between them. Often though the people involved in the us vs. them dynamic can’t see the problem they share clearly or objectively, so they remain unaware that together they hold the key to moving past whatever it is that’s keeping them divided. While the energy that gets generated ranges from uncomfortable to contentious, it’s likely that the situation will remain unchanged (or get worse) until someone takes action to move everyone in a compatible direction. Leaders have an opportunity to support the misaligned parties by helping them surface the perspectives and possibilities that illuminate their path toward resolution.
“Throughout the day tension and release swells in the restaurant like taking a breath and exhaling. There are so many little discords that it can be really easy to rest in the reactive state. Training myself to befriend the dissonance is an ongoing practice, but I’ve found that if I can recognize its parts in the context of the whole that I can help nudge it towards harmony.” – Brandon Sass, Bar Steward at Young Joni
Read on for a deeper dive into his insight…
Dissonance and Resolve.
by Brandon Sass
It’s all around us, pulling us towards resolution in one direction or another. Sometimes it pulls us towards a new harmony, and sometimes it’s better if we relax back to where we came from.
Dissonance, musically speaking, is the lack of harmony among musical notes. The sound produced by dissonance is uncomfortable to the human ear – that is, until we educate ourselves about why it’s happening and what it means. It occurs when two notes are literally right next to each other, or a “half-step” away from each other; the two frequencies are so close that they create the sound that we define as dissonance. We generally experience the sounds of dissonance when one of two notes, currently in harmony, moves away from the harmony en route to a new harmony. These often occur in chords – a collection of 3 or more notes – as they move throughout a “chord progression,” which is a collection of multiple chords in a specific sequence. All the notes, or parts of the chord, play a role in the resolution, even though generally only two of them are in dissonance with each other.
Dissonance, extrapolated, is a discord created when two conflicting forces collide.
Thoughts, beliefs, ideas – none of these things are mutually exclusive, and sometimes they are felt as truths at the same time, thus creating a dissonance. Think about a time when you recognized that two conflicting “truths” were colliding. What does that sound like? Chances are, it sounds like a conflict. What if we used that conflict to create a new resolution? Just like in a chord, there are more parts to a situation than the two that are in conflict, and all are needed to get where we are going. So, there’s a solution written into the dissonance, isn’t there? If you listen closely enough, and take in the entire context of the situation, more than one clear path to resolution will present itself.
In a way, we should train ourselves to seek out dissonance, because if we do we’re always moving towards a resolution. There’s beauty hidden in the conflict.
Let’s put it in the restaurant.
At Young Joni, food comes out FAST – we’re talking minutes after the fire – and so therefore, drinks also need to come out maybe even faster. When a bartender gets a ticket with a mix of beer, wine and craft cocktails, their natural tendency is to put up a “complete” ticket all at once, so naturally they begin working on the cocktails first because it only takes a second to put up the wine. As they’re working, more tickets are coming in, and naturally some of those tickets may be just wine, but the bartender doesn’t know that until they see it. Even once they do see it, they may need to finish the ticket they’re working on before moving onto the next ticket. Servers, of course, are working on their tables’ timeline, not the bartender’s however. So, naturally, the servers get frustrated when they’re waiting for a ticket with only wine on it. The bartender team controls the stock of all alcoholic beverages, and also controls the pour amounts that have been decided.
So, we have two conflicting truths: the servers need all the drinks quickly, while the bartenders need to control the pour, inventory, and have their own priorities to manage. It’s possible for this situation to remain inert and unresolved, like some atonal piece of music where the chords are seemingly unrelated and thus have no perceivable key or harmony. Imagine a consistent stasis of the wait-staff accusing the bartenders of “being slow” or “not prioritizing the servers’ tickets properly,” and the bar team scoffing at that notion that they have “a lot more going on.” Imagine the vibrations of these two conflicting truths rubbing against each other, creating a dissonance in the environment, just begging to be resolved in one direction or another.
Where do I fit in?
As a leader, we’re like a note in the chord. Maybe not one of the dissonant notes, but more likely a contextual note that gives the chord identity, think of it like a “root note.” As part of the chord, we also have a (passive/active) role in the resolution – we could act as a catalyst for movement, but we must assess our ability to respond to the dissonance taking place amongst our group of notes. We can only truly resolve the conflict together as a whole, even as each part acts independently, with the leader extracting the harmony amongst it.
The solution we found inside the conflict used both truths to get to the new resolution, a brand new harmony of all the parts. The bartenders now pull tickets as soon as they come in scanning for the “easy” ones, and if there are wines on any of the tickets, the bottle and glasses are put up for the servers to pour themselves, with the bartenders providing a sample glass with water marking the measurement for each glass’ pour. Thus, relieving the pressure and bottle-necking (pun intended) coming out of the service well. Notice that resolving this dissonance didn’t take a big swing of compositional mastery, but a nudge in a new direction using the contextual needs of the conflicting parts. Some situations may call for a few more steps en route to harmony, and much like music there’s always more than one choice, but often the most pleasing to the ear is the simplest.
“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein
Sometimes all you really want is something that puts a smile on your face. Find links here to curiosities that may or may not be related to today’s article.
Article – 9 minute read
The Hidden History of Magic Eye, the Optical Illusion that Briefly Took Over the World
by Liz Stinson for Eye on Design, April 2019
“Every illusion is solvable, as long as you know how to look at it.”
Can you see the link between this image and Brandon’s article (posted above?)
Can you see how making sense of optical illusions is a metaphor for finding a larger truth that gets us out of our own limiting stories?
Can you see the journey of Magic Eye as a narrative that describes innovation?
But, most importantly, can you see the slice of pizza?