art work by John Ceprano
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You Could Cut the Air with a Knife

Have you ever heard this idiom – ‘you could cut the air with a knife’? Generally-speaking, it is a term that describes a tense situation between people and, at times, there is a sense of foreboding that something unpleasant is about to happen. When I looked up the derivation I did not find a lot to draw from. However, here is one commentator’s attempt at a physiological explanation:

“I suggest it’s to do with the fact that people hold back their breath in tense situations…Whatever the reason, there must be a consensus between people as to when the air is free and pleasant, easy to breathe, or the exact opposite: a physical presence, unfree and heavy, impossible to breathe, so that one could cut it with a knife.”

For me there is a strong physical and visual in this phrase – you could cut the air with a knife – and I have experienced the sensation when in conflict or observing others. It does feel like the air is thick with high and intense emotions and other things that you too may identify in your own interpersonal disputes or those you see or hear.

This week’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) are aimed at readers who understand the experience inherent in these words as they relate to a specific conflict in which you are currently involved.

  • What is the situation in which you feel you could cut the air with a knife?
  • What is in the air that creates a sense of thickness that could be cut?
  • What does it feel like?
  • What other image does this notion of being able to cut the air with a knife conjure up for you, if any?
  • With what may the other person say the air is thick?
  • If others observed you two in conflict, what else may they add, if anything, to what is in the air?
  • How do you want to experience the air between you and the other person?
  • What may be different about what the other person wants the air to be like between you? What may be the same?
  • What could be used to cut through what is going on between you and the other person?
  • What else will it take to clear the air?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?

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