The idea behind the saying is simple … don’t do something that is going cause a reaction that could be “problematic”, perhaps volatile or perhaps just negative.
The phrase is often used in sales situations.
During the sales cycle an experienced sales person will avoid talking about contentious issues. When managing client relationships there will be plenty of occasions where tackling contentious issues is absolutely the right thing to do, however during the actual sales process it is important to keep the focus on the positives as much as possible!
In a relationship (personal or business) the phrase could be used when discussing sensitive topics … bringing them up can spark some tense discussion. A spouse may avoid letting their partner know their thoughts on a particular habit or hobby … knowing the “reaction” will not be worth the trouble. A friend may choose to avoid topics of conversation that are sensitive, focusing instead on upbeat subject etc.
Obviously there are a million ways that this phrase can be used.
We also need to recognize that sometimes “poking the bear" is exactly what is needed.
The way things change/improve is by addressing contentious issues, challenging old ideas and dragging reluctant participants into a new way of thinking.
It is also important in any relationship NOT to “sweep issues under the rug” … poking the bear every now and then might be uncomfortable, but it airs out issues that need to be addressed and helps avoid harbored resentments which lead to REAL conflict!
Maybe I should blog sometime about when, and how, to “poke the bear” to effect positive change!!!