Balancing Polarities

Working from the InsideOut means intentionally developing the capacity to work beyond a the desire to hold a position or win an argument or fix a problem. This means recognizing when conflicts or controversy arise in our work and interactions because we are sensing into a tension of opposites that must be held in balance. In short, there is friction arising from two seemingly opposing polarities and the interaction is at risk of treating the polarities in an “either / or” rather than a “both / and” manner.

A lot goes unresolved our day to day work and in life. We race to produce short-term deliverables, while long-term goals linger unaddressed. Individuals hammer away at their tasks, while team progress stagnates. We struggle with the balance between building workplace relationships and just getting work done. There are no “best practices” that will solve these problems because these are not problems – they are polarities.

What is a polarity?

A polarity is a dilemma that is ongoing and unsolvable that contains seemingly opposing ideas. Some good examples of common polarities include:
short term (tactical) AND long term (strategic)
innovation (research) AND commercialization (development)
team (centralization) AND individual (decentralization)
clarity (direction) AND flexibility (freedom)
growth (generating) AND consolidation (effectiveness)
Being aware of such dynamics and resisting the urge to advocate or assert that one pole is the “solution” is key. Do we want short term or long term thinking? We want both and we want the best of both.

How do we balance polarities?

To work with polarities, start by surfacing and recognizing them. Facilitating a session with the people affected by the polarity is the best way to go about this. Take a moment to understand the positive aspects / manifestations and the negative aspects / manifestations for each pole – this will be specific to your context and circumstances. Doing so will allow you to choose a course of action that optimizes for the best of both. Be careful in assuming that shifting from one pole to the other will optimize for best results. Instead consider carefully what needs to happen to support manifesting the best in both poles.

Book recommendation: Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems by Barry Johnson