Tend the Fire, Don’t Fight It

Recently I’ve been reading “Standing in the Fire:  Leading high-heat meetings with clarity, calm, and courage” by Larry Dressler.  If you haven’t read it, I recommend it.  It’s all about how the stress, frustrations, difficulties, and even anger (known henceforth as “fire”) that occurs in meetings and other groups of people can be healthy and good, if we tend to it appropriately.

All meetings are subject to fire, and this fire can be constructive or destructive.


  • Nothing innovative happens without fire.
  • Fire is what proves people care about an issue.  Lack of fire demonstrates ambivalence.
  • Heat of conviction brings energy.  Tough problems need ample energy to be solved.
  • Fire often pushes people to see an old problem in a new light.
  • Fire can be cleansing.  Without it, issues can accumulate and fester.
  • Working through fire, if tended successfully, can leave the group stronger for the future.


  •  If not tended correctly, people within the fire may suffer emotional pain.  This may result in fearfulness or aggression.
  • A significant fire in one part of a group or organization that is not tended well can escalate and spread.
  • Consistent untended fire can leave groups overwhelmed and consistently defensive.

The author argues that if you think that you can invest infinite time and money in learning new conflict resolution techniques you can successfully handle any fire, you are WRONG! Rather you have to discover practices which enable you to be a calm and grounded presence in situations where others are angry, distressed, frustrated, etc.  The only person in the world you can control, is yourself, and it begins with this sort of self-awareness.

How do you develop these practices?  Disclosure statement…I don’t know yet, I haven’t finished the book.  We’ll delve more into this next week, but in the meantime I leave you with these reflection questions posed by the author:

“Think about the last high-heat meeting you facilitated.  What were the indicators that the group was experiencing high heat?  What did people do?” (pg. 22).

“When you are leading groups, what causes you to feel defensive, impatient, or anxious? What internal narratives and beliefs are connected with these feeling?” (pg. 22).


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