I had a participant in a team building meeting recently who was a pastor on the side (in addition to his job with the federal agency I was working with).  He taught me a lot during the session.  The best thing was his use of the term “tunnel of chaos.”

I liken his concept to Gervase Bushe’s concept of “interpersonal mush.”  It’s what happens when people make up stories to explain the behavior of others without checking their stories out with each other.  We all do it, whether we want to admit it or not; as human beings, Bushe says, we are sense-making creatures and we’re driven to make up stories that explain what we see going on around us.  The problem is that our stories are often motivated more by the fundamental attribution error than by reality.

The pastor said that when you realize you have an unproductive story in your head, and you’re frustrated with another person, you have a decision to make.  Do you want to revert to fight or flight mode?  Or do you want to enter the tunnel of chaos and work it out?  The tunnel of chaos is the trading of stories and interpretations between two people that may initially lead to more frustration and misunderstanding (“chaos” or “interpersonal mush”) but will eventually take us to some sort of shared understanding if we stick it out.  It’s a concept he uses often when counseling his parishioners.

It caught on quick in our session.  Soon, whenever someone began to vent about a communication-related issue that frustrated them, everyone would echo, “So, do you want to fight or flee?  Or will you enter the tunnel of chaos?”  Everyone would laugh, of course, but the point was made.  You can take the unproductive and easy way out.  Or you can do the hard stuff, spend some extra time and effort explaining your thinking on an issue and being open to listening to someone else’s very different perspective.    You can weather the initial chaos in hopes of a bigger payoff at the end.  The result, if you stick with it, is almost always greater clarity and trust between teammates.

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