Dealing with the Tangles

I have spent a fair amount of my summer break untangling things. The sort of twists that occur in an active summer with fishing lines, ropes, children’s salt laden hair, bundles of string and more. As I have been doing the untangling I reflected on how this could be a metaphor for collaboration.

The situations where collaboration is most useful are ones of complexity and can look and feel like tangles. ‘Tangle’ is defined as both a “confused mass of something twisted together” and “a complicated or confused state or condition.”

On first viewing a tangle it is common to feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin. Although the desired strategic outcome may be clear, the steps to get there are not instantly apparent. The temptation to not take on the task is strong, perhaps someone else can deal with it or maybe we can work around the tangle?

However you know that getting through the tangle will open up new options so you persist. You need to be calm with the process – there are no shortcuts. With the fishing line tangle the external distractions were intense. The boat was moving, we (my son and I whose rigs were twisted together) were impatient to get our lines in the water and I felt a little seasick.

I had to exercise patience and give it time. I realized I mightn’t be able to do it all myself so needed to ask for help. I also needed to loosen the tangle with no certainty of the outcome. Make it messier at the outset. Giving a tangle a good shake and letting air into the twisted mess helps a lot although it feels you don’t know what you are doing and have little control over the outcome.

These are all emotions we can experience when partaking in a collaborative process. To open up a dilemma to a diversity of people and admit that we don’t have all the answers is like putting your tangles on public show. It takes courage and it is worth it.

A collaborative journey can elicit emotions of frustration, impatience and overwhelm and will bring moments of elation and pride when we get a breakthrough and clear a tangle. These tangles will keep happening, like my daughter’s long hair that despite our good intentions to brush daily turns into a matted mess so I find myself yet again calmly working through the knots. I am now more skilled at the task and my daughter fusses less.

Similarly as you and the people with whom you are collaborating become more adept at working the tangles, your successes will increase and the opportunities will grow.

In reaching out to collaborate with others, we are also reaching out to ourselves, the best of ourselves. We will come across tangles in the process and we can trust that these will unfold.

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