University of Twente Student Theses


Experiencing and managing nested tensions

Zandbergen, J.C. (2019) Experiencing and managing nested tensions.

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Abstract:Background: In organizations people are faced with difficult choices which creates tensions. Tension may arise as a dispute between two or more people or be more intrinsic in nature. Tensions are often latent and do not cause problems. However, added stress may cause latent tensions to become salient, in which case action is required. A distinction can be made between two type of tensions: nested and singular. Singular tensions can be considered to exist on themselves. In contrast nested tensions are interconnected and may affect each other. While singular tensions have been widely studied little is still known about nested tensions. Objective: The purpose of this study is to explain how tensions become nested and it aims to explain how this affects the way tensions are experienced and individually managed. Method: This is a case study at a Dutch government organization. Data was gathered over the course of four months through interviews and observations. The researcher also attended two dilemma sessions and a framing workshop, both organized by the organization. In this study an openminded approach was employed. This means that no hypotheses were posed up-front and everything was considered possible data. The data was analysed iteratively by going back and forth between data and literature. Findings: Results show how three nested tensions are first experienced through a vicious cycle, where one starts with trying to solve a singular tension and ends up giving up solving anything altogether. Then people go through a virtuous cycle, where they accept the nested tensions and solve it through emotional equanimity, cognitive complexity and differentiation techniques. Three organizational dynamics are identified: a gap to higher management, no room for error, and discouraging change. Tensions are not only nested with one another, but also with organizational dynamics. As a result, organizational dynamics impede rather than foster people’s ability to manage nested tension. Conclusion: Experiencing nested tensions is different from singular tensions. Singular tension are experienced through a vicious or a virtuous cycle. Instead, nested tension are experienced as a process in which both cycles are used in conjunction. Due to organizational dynamics adding to the nested characteristics of tensions it can be difficult and dangerous to manage nested tensions individually. Attempting to do so may cause stress to the individual and harm to the organization. Instead a holistic approach to nested tensions should be used in which the whole organization is included to avoid further anxiety and problems.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:05 communication studies
Programme:Communication Studies MSc (60713)
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